Let me tell you a story about a time I got inspired, but I didn’t steal due to that inspiration.
I was watching a movie (2016 Sing Street) for my Studies in Young Adult Literature class. At the very end the young teenage couple are in a small boat running away from home together and are crossing the Irish Sea to get to London, and to pursue their dreams. Sing Street is largely a drama/romance film about a group of Irish teenagers making a band but these last three to four minutes transformed the movie into a fantasy genre. The way it was shot, the color scheme, the thrashing sea, and the music playing, which was Adam Levine’s Go Now. The lyrics struck me hard.
You’re never gonna go if you don’t go now
You’re never gonna grow if you don’t grow now
You never gonna know if you don’t find out
You’re never going back, never turning around
You’re never gonna go if you don’t go now
You’re never gonna know if you don’t find out
You’re never turning back, never turning around
You’re never gonna go if you don’t go
At the time of watching this, and also the first time hearing this song, I hadn’t been writing lately, maybe for over a week. I had gotten down without writing for so long, and started to beat myself up about said lack of writing when I wanted to be a novelist. You can’t be a novelist if you don’t write novels, right? The song felt like an arrow to the chest. I’d never be a novelist if I went on like this. I’d never go, I’ve never find out.
Go Now paired with this fantasy-like ending, inspiration struck me like a bolt of lightning. In that instant, I learned multiple things on a fantasy story I have called The Last Flowers. I realized right then the story was not one book, but it was a trilogy. Not only was it a trilogy, but I suddenly had a character’s name and her quest, and I knew the very last line, of the very last book.
I was inspired due to the fantasy-like ending to the movie and the song, but I didn’t start writing a story about teenagers making a band. Instead I began to write vigorously on my own story that had nothing to do with what caused me to become inspired.
When you’re inspired by something, it makes you want to create something, but not the exact same thing. In short, inspiration spurs action. If you watch an amazing movie and you become inspired to write screenplays, then you should write a screenplay, but not the same screenplay as the movie you watched. If you heard someone sing the greatest song you’ve ever heard, and you decide you want to write songs, then write songs, but not the same song you just listened to.
For example, if you read Harry Potter, and became so inspired to write a book, then write a book. But don’t write a book about a boy who’s parents were killed by a evil sorcerer because he’s destined to kill that sorcerer and he goes to a magical school and makes two great friends and they go on magical adventures together. Yeah, you wrote that book, but you weren’t inspired by Harry Potter, you stole from Harry Potter.
Inspiration is an amazing feeling that drives you to create something that’s your own. Stealing is taking something that’s not yours.
That’s not to say that you can’t be inspired to write something that is similar to what inspired you in the first place. Sticking with the Harry Potter example, there are tons of books about magical academies out there, with angels or vampires or assassins, what have you. Writing about a magical academy isn’t stealing, nor writing about a character who’s been marked by destiny.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 Del Toro fantasy film) for instance has the main character with a moon symbol birthmark on her shoulder, marking her as the moon princess of the underground realm. That doesn’t mean he stole from Harry Potter who has a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. Could he have been inspired by Harry Potter? Maybe. Did he steal from Harry Potter? No.
Actually, Pan’s Labyrinth inspired me a few days ago and I watched it twice. After watching it, I wanted to write, that inspiration made me start writing. I’m working on a series called the Chronicles of Edenmire, and I don’t know a lot about the story is about yet as I’m focused on world-building right now. Still, the part of Pan’s Labyrinth that inspired me is the idea of a normal girl learning she’s not human but from a mystical world that she didn’t know existed.
Yeah, my interpretation of Pan’s Labyrinth is that the girl wasn’t crazy and it all happened, she was a magical princess of the moon. So in my story, my main girl learns she’s not human but is half-human, with her father a Celestial being from another world. Is that stealing from Pan’s Labyrinth? Well, no, as that’s the only part of my story that’s been inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth. The rest of the story won’t have three tasks my girl has to complete or faeries or being set in 1900s Spain or having an evil stepfather. None of that. If my story DID have all of that, then I’d call that stealing, not inspiration.
And so, that’s it. Being inspired by something makes you jump up and start working. Start writing, start songwriting, start writing screenplays, whatever it is. Stealing makes you write the exact thing you got inspired by, and taking it for your own.
Inspired good, stealing bad.
And as I write, my cat Aomine keeps me company by my side.