The trouble with Inspiration

plagiarimsAs some of you might have seen I was not sure what to write about in this week’s writer’s tips blog, so I took to social networking to help me decide. The choices were an entry about inspirations, or about character writing outside of your comfort zone.  And there were a few more people interested in hearing about inspiration.  Actually a few writers were curious about the concept of the turbulence that Inspiration can cause.  And that sounds like a lot of fun to write about, so that’s where we are.  And for those who chimed in for interest on Writing outside your comfort level, I’ll be focusing in on that really soon.  And those comments also changed my initial idea.  I really like the conversations and I might try for feedback more often.  Plus  H.H. Neville gave me another topic that might be getting some focus not soon after.   Speaking of inspiration!

I think we all know what inspiration is.  It comes from many fonts and eddies in our minds.  They can sometimes be accidental and often were not even sure where they come from, and our minds spin out of control like a train wreck we can’t look away from.  Of course then there are other times when our inspiration speaks to us in a much more lucid way.  When we see a concept in a film, tv show, video game, novel or what not that spawn this appetite to make it our own, be it for critique, deconstruction or just because it seems fun.  Not matter how inspiration hits, or why we drink it up like fine wine the truth remains that there is always a dividing line between too much or too little.  But how do we manage ourselves to fall in line to create something unique or all our own, when most of the things that pop into our head are birthed by the concepts of other things.

Myself like many other writers I know began honing our craft in the tepid world of Fan Fiction.  And so many are used to the idea directly being inspired by other universes and concepts that comics, anime and such things have given us.  I think in some ways that this creates an environment for the dangerous  sort of inspiration of wanting to put our own twist on a great concept that excites us.  Genre writing I feel very much also makes this sort of inspiration very accessible in terms of what we write.  And where in some minds this could feel like the most indirect form of plagiarism, it definitely depends on how it’s handled.  But seeing an interesting concept and placing your own spin in a mood of inspiration can also lead to something completely unique.  This is what genre writing tends to be.  However it does depend on how it’s handled and how much of your own creativity is delivered into the mix.  And that is in essence the largest issue when it comes to being “directly inspired”.

I, like many others I am sure, have watched a film and thought “holy crap that’s awesome!”  It could be a specific scene or perhaps the way a writer approaches a particular subject or concept.  These ideas usually manifest in new ways we couldn’t have even guessed.  I remember reading Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon and the Voice of Odin and coming up with the idea of mercenary who was just really good at not being killed.  And though what The Roach turned out being is very different than the dashing and iron-man Dillon tends to be, he was inspired after reading the book, and he falls into a similar genre as Derrick’s popular character.  Of course  I knew that he was to be very different right out of the gate.  But both Roach and Dillion were spawned from the same environment, and they both lived in a world that was seen through someone else’s eyes.  He wasn’t my character, he was fan fiction.  He needed bits that inspired me.  Someone from  our modern world, who was just a bit better than us brought about by the sinister intent of a world of grey.  But he needed this inspiration from my filter.  He needed me to build on those ideas, for me to give him the things only I could.  And when you read about this deranged Belgian mercenary, Dillon won’t even enter your mind (probably more Agatha Christie if I’m being totally honest)   But he did plant the seed, and it was my job to make this seed into something that was mine.

When inspiration takes a bite out of our jugular, it’s our job to make it submit to our filters and imagination.  No matter if it’s the way that Mecha-robots are depicted in Pacific Rim, or the way that Jane austen depicts a budding romance.  We need to make it our own.  The real adventure is breathing enough of our own ideas into the concept without spoiling what excited us in the first place.  And that is when we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

But how do we know if were borrowing too much, or too little?  I feel that this is a personal question and relies heavily on what your attempting to gain from it.  Deconstructions of super heroes like ‘Watchmen’  for example is going to retain more of the core concepts than being inspired by how vampires are depicted in a Sookie Stackhouse novel.  But honestly I think deep down you should be completely honest with yourself.  If it feels like your borrowing to much from the source of your inspiration, then YOU ARE borrowing to much.  We are our own worst critics, but were not the only critics.

But what do you do, if you find out you are using to much of someone else’s work.  Well you write Fan fiction obviously?

…  … … Okay no not really.  You go back to the drawing board and give it another go.   You have to find out where the problem began and eradicate it.  And there are plenty of ways to go about it.  You can simply start reading again.  Find that first sinking feeling.  And remove it.  When your done, do you have enough to continue?  If so, then your not as bad off as you thought.  All you need to do is repair the damage.

Now if its completely destroyed, your going to need to get back to basics. At the top of the page write your inspiration, what the idea is.  Now write the parts that feel like they are someone else’s.  Characters features?  Locations?  Plot element?   List them all.  Those are the elements you need to focus in on.  They are the parts you need to get rid of, and rethink.  Using your inspiration create these things brand new.  If you lose to much for your idea to remain, then was it really your idea to begin with?

As writers and artists we have to be critical with ourselves and we have to be honest.  We need to feel positive about our ideas.  We can get past the mantras of “this paragraph is awful” and we can thicken our skin to editor’s suggestions if we feel confident in our ideas.   We go through all the heartache and strife for those small balls of genius.

If you don’t take your inspiration and birth something you believe in.  If you don’t feel like it really came from you.  Your story will never be written.

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