The Case of the Stolen Idea

11 Aug

Summer has hit Mystery Rolling Blog Tours Ink! All of our mystery authors are taking a well needed rest, so today’s post is the only one on the tour. To check out previous tours, please read my posts on 10 Must Have Books for Every Writer and Plots that Refuse to Thicken.

I taught creative writing for a while, until the lousy pay and certain students (not all of them – most were normal) made me want to tear my hair out by the roots.

Can I say ‘normal’? Is that politically correct? Is somebody out there going to challenge me on what the definition of ‘normal’ is? Here’s my definition of a ‘normal’ student: somebody who listens to the instructor, asks intelligent questions and doesn’t make me want to run out of the classroom screaming.

Normal or not, I hope that I helped my students along in their writing journey. I met some very talented people who I’m sure will do very well as writers. I met some very untalented people who probably won’t do very well and better not quit their day jobs. There were a lot of creative minds in the class, but some students couldn’t write. Seriously. They didn’t know how to punctuate a sentence, and their eyes glazed over when I tactfully suggested they take a grammar course. Their solution was that an editor should be the one to worry about the grammatical details. It was hard to keep a straight face.
The most common question I was asked? Not: ‘how do I create compelling characters?’ or ‘how can I write snappy dialogue?’ or ‘how can I make an emotional connection with the reader?’ The number one question was: “What do I do if I submit my manuscript to an (agent, editor, publisher) and somebody steals my idea?” The only thing on their minds was whether they should hire a literary legal expert.
I would patiently explain that ideas can’t be copyrighted. No matter how unique you think your idea is, somebody’s already come up with it. There is no such thing as a new plot. A writer shouldn’t worry about stolen ideas, he or she should simply write the best novel they can write, and put their own spin on the idea to make it uniquely theirs. Stealing ideas rarely happens in the publishing industry. Plagiarism has occurred, but that’s a different beast. 

I’m not sure if my students believed me, based on their skeptic looks. I guess they figured agents and editors spent all their ‘free’ time (even though I’m sure they don’t have any) reading through unsolicited manuscripts and wading through slush piles looking for good ideas to steal to give to their favorite authors. Or ideas they themselves could use to become famous novelists.
Whenever this question came up, it was all I could not to gnash my teeth and wail.
It’s a wonder I have any hair left.

8 Responses to “The Case of the Stolen Idea”

  1. mapelba August 12, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    I teach. I know what you mean by normal.

    As for the stealing ideas… you’re right. Someone else has already thought of what your idea. I saw a series of videos that show how people can come up with the same idea at the same time independently of each other. And how all great ideas are built on ideas that came before anyway.

    In another article I read why some tv producers won’t even open mail from aspiring writers. Let’s say a Star Trek fan sends a script for a possible episode. Well, if one of the regular writers happens to have the same idea–all on their own–and that idea gets made into a show, sure enough that aspiring writer will sue, thinking their idea was stolen. Wanting to avoid this, scripts, proposals, etc get sent back unopened.

    Besides, it sound to me as if those students’ egos are bigger than their ideas.

  2. nancyelizabethlauzon August 13, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I think it’s called ‘synronicity’ – when people think or do things at the same time, but independent of each other.

    Yeah, there were lots of big egos, surprisingly in the younger students.

    That’s goog to know, about the tv producers, just in case I delve into screenplay writing, LOL. Thanks for stopping by.

    Nancy

  3. Joelle Wilson August 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    The thought “No matter how unique you think your idea is, somebody’s already come up with it. ” Very true. I see it in the books that I read. When I was younger I used to worry about coming up with something unique and special, something completely mine. I suppose I was just trying to stand out in a crowd. lol. Now though, I focus on being uniquely me and allow my voice to come through in the way that I write. Thanks for posting.

    And “Whenever this question came up, it was all I could not to gnash my teeth and wail.” made me giggle about the visual image on that one. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Please don’t ask me « The Chick Dick Mysteries - August 14, 2011

    […] please see my posts on Plots That Refuse to Thicken, 10 Must-Have Books for Every Writer, and  The Case of the Stolen Idea.  At the bottom of this post you’ll find the remaining participants in today’s tour, and a […]

  2. The Lure of the Red Herring « The Chick Dick Mysteries - August 16, 2011

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  3. My Favourite Mystery Movie « The Chick Dick Mysteries - August 18, 2011

    […] Please Don’t Ask Me, Plots That Refuse to Thicken, 10 Must-Have Books for Every Writer, and The Case of the Stolen Idea.  At the bottom of this post you’ll find the remaining participants in today’s tour, and a […]

  4. Twilight, Regurgitated « The Chick Dick Mysteries - October 5, 2012

    […] about my adventures teaching creative writing (see my previous posts Please Don’t Ask Me and The Case of the Stolen Idea) and I met a lot of interesting people during my three years of teaching, with some notable […]

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