Paula blogged recently about fanfic and taking inspiration from other stories: “I'm rethinking characters, situations, conflicts and resolutions and figuring out how to tell them in new ways, with new outcomes and new themes.” Some writers might be put off by this idea, thinking they’re “stealing” from other writers. There has been quite a bit of discussion about this on the web lately. Diana Peterfreund set out to disprove the claim that one author can steal an idea from another, because any two authors given the same idea will come up with completely different stories. She gave 12 writers (including yours truly) one sentence—A young woman confronts her parents after discovering she has inherited telekinetic powers—and asked each of us to come up with a short scene, without any of us looking at the others’ work or even knowing who the other authors were. The topic sentence sent some writers of adult romance into YA, though Diana says this was not her intent. It definitely forced me into paranormal for the first time! But all the entries are quite different from each other.
I thought about the experiment this morning when I e-mailed my critique partner Vicki some eye-hurtingly brilliant ideas for the new novel she’s plotting. She might end up writing the opposite of my ideas. Thinking about how wrong my ideas are might take her in an entirely new direction. Nothing would surprise me more than if she used my ideas. (Update: Vicki's response to my eye-hurting brilliance was, "Nooooooooooooooo!")
Vicki and I work great together because we “get” each other’s writing. That’s where the similarities stop. Her first drafts are heavy on internal conflict, mine are all external, and we compensate in opposite directions. She writes historicals and paranormals, whereas I write adult and YA contemporary comedy. We’ve said we have the same sense of humor, but I’m not sure even this is true. We laugh at the same jokes, but the jokes we make are very different. No wonder the plotline that seems obvious to me is foreign to her, and vice-versa. I’m sure that if the two of us agreed each to write a novel from the same topic sentence or even the same synopsis, by the time we were done, no one would be able to tell we started at the same place.