Thursday, June 14, 2012

Re-Writing the Old Familiar

We've all had it happen during a story. You write a scene you're particularly proud of, but it feels somehow "familiar." Soon enough, you discover why. The same thing/character/plot point happened in another book or movie or comic you've seen before (or sometimes not seen, but it's there nonetheless).

Was there a time when this happened to you when it was particularly difficult to rewrite or cut the scene or character? Please share.

Lee Houston Jr.: I've heard it said that all writers are basically playing in the same sandbox, it's just a question of what we do with the toys. I have never intentionally duplicated anything or anyone's work, but have found myself at times traveling down well familiar paths with a story. There are just too many things derivative of other things within the multimedia world we live in today for anyone to leave that minefield totally unscathed. You think you have something special until you go back to proofread the material and discover otherwise.

Nancy Hansen: I remember sitting through The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicholas Cage and thinking about how I would describe the movie's special effects sorcery in a story.

And oh yeah, I've been known to use people from my real life in stories, as either positive characters, villains, or red shirts/cannon fodder. So far no one has recognized herself/himself.

James Palmer: The few times I've had this happen is during the planning stages, so none of it made it into the final draft. I had this happen recently with a scene I was writing for a licensed pulp character that had a baddie doing something very similar to something I saw in a movie. I revised my plot, and now that scene and villainous no longer occurs in the tale at all.

My biggest problem related to this has to do with dialogue. I'll often catch myself putting words in my characters' mouths that I heard in a movie somewhere and really liked, though I've changed it up a bit in my head over the years. It's hard to revise because I love the line so much.

Paul Mannering: When I was 12 I started writing my first fantasy novel. When I was 14 I saw Conan The Barbarian (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) and had to toss the entire thing. Without realising it I had my lead protagonist start out life exactly the same way (his village got raided in winter by slavers). The comparisons were uncanny. I was too young to realise that just because one person has written it doesn't mean that I could do my version of the same scenario.

Van Allen Plexico: I don't think I've ever outright duplicated anything, either intentionally or unintentionally. Though certainly I've borrowed lots of evocative flavor and mood from similar books, etc.

David Jobe: One of the hardest things in my writing is coming up with names for characters. I just have a hard time finding a name that feels good. So, I was working on a short story about a soldier type in a fantasy setting that is betrayed by his king. I come up with the name Nostromos. I instantly love the name. It is perfect and at the time I thought it was unique. Years later, I am watching Alien again, and guess what the name of their ship is? Yup. My creative name was the name of the ship in Alien. I still love the name, but it did take some of the creative feel out of it.

Alan Lewis: Years ago, the first novel idea I'd come up with had a female character who had a certain look, style and background. I started writing the outline and then James Cameron created Dark Angel. My character was an exact double for Jessica Alba's Max. I ended up putting the idea down and have yet to go back to it. Maybe I'll get back to it eventually.

Shon Jason Medley:  I think the best thing you can do is to not watch television or read anything else while writing away on your on piece. Even music can be a distraction, but my mind wonders if I don't have a little noise happening other than what's going on in my head. Instrumental music is perfect for such times.

Allan Gilbreath: It is very difficutlt to actually invent something truly original these days. Pretty much, it has all been done at one time or another by someone. Take the vampire genre, sooner or later, somebady is getting bitten. This is so common place, how it happens is actually expected.

RJ Sullivan: I'll be specific -- you know that scene in Wargames where Mathew Broaderick uses his hacking skills to change Ally Sheedy's report card grades? I had my computer nerd character pull of the same trick to impress the protag in my story, his wannebe girlfriend. When I realized where I'd copped it and what i'd done, I still wanted my computer hacker character to impress his girlfriend with computer hacking--I just had him do something completely different that took the story in some interesting directions.

Herika R Raymer:  Honestly not sure, I am still a novice writer so my short stories undoubtedly have something similar somewhere. However, if and when I finally do write a novel I expect that there will be something that resembles another scene somewhere.Rarely anything is new. Everything has been said, written, or sung. It is your presentation that makes it your own.

What do you do when this situation occurs? What are your suggestions for dealing with the such "familiar" scenes or characters?

Roland Mann: No harm in being "inspired by." But if that does happen, simply REVISE. Writers don't do enough of that anyway. If the familiar is strong enough, you could even be clever enough to work something in to your revised scene that is a "tip of the hat" to the source. That...or rip it! :)

Allan Gilbreath: The real trick is to make whatever scene you have your own. If the movies worried about repeat scenes, there would only be a about 10 movies made each year. I say just bulldoze right on through that scene/story and just get it on the screen and out of your head. You can always eidt it up all nice and pretty later. Who knows, you may not have an original scene, but you might just do the best version of it to date.

Nancy Hansen: I'm an unabashed borrower. If I like a scene or a particular character, I find a way to adapt it to what I'm doing, catching the flavor and the spirit without plagiarizing the original material. Writing fantasy, you can get away with that easily enough, unless you're inspired by Tolkien or Howard. We're all basically writing the same heroic tales over again, so it's pretty hard not to be influenced by what came before. What makes the difference is how skillfully you handle the adaptation. Somewhat reminiscent of XYZ character in ABC scene is as close as you ever want to get. You have to give that piece a signature twist that is all your own.

Herika R Raymer: Deal with it as you can, but I do agree to write out the scene and get it finished - otherwise it could possibly haunt you. I know several scenes have done that to me, so I just write them and then see if I can adjust them later. Sometimes you can, sometimes you cannot. If it cannot be done, do not worry overmuch. As Angelia Sparrow said, it could be considered homage -- at least you can hope that.

James Palmer: Like I stated above, carefully plot and plan. Often it's something obvious and cliched you come up with because you don't take the time to think of something a bit more clever. List ten bad things that could happen to your character, and pick the worst one. Also, turn off the TV, and don't read books similar to the one you're writing.

Van Allen Plexico: Egad!! If I couldn't steep myself in other works that evoke what I'm shooting for in a particular project, I probably couldn't do it at all!

Lee Houston Jr.: The first thing I do is delete the "offending" passage or passages, then I search for a way to not only rewrite that section, but try to find an unique way to do that in the process. I may not always find something that hasn't been done before, but I at least try and make it different enough from anything that has ever been done before.

Angelia Sparrow: I've done it, but I've called it a pastiche or homage. I have a scene in one of my trucker stories that is a direct, line from line, steal from Ice Pirates. I did it on purpose and the stage business and characters are very different.

Robert Krog: We're often retelling stories that have been told and retold throughout history. One puts one's own mark on the story and moves, on, only worrying to change it if one realizes one has actually, inadvertently stolen someone else's words. If one is directly quoting on purpose as an homage, well, that's okay too, though crediting the source might be due, of course.

RJ Sullivan: Yes, through no intention of my own, I replayed specifically a scene from a movie I had seen decades earlier. Fortunately I re-watch favorite films every few years and I was still drafting when that particular film came around on my to-view list again. Fortunately, the specifics were not vital to making my story work, so I kept the "idea of the idea" while changing all the specifics, gave it my own spin and it worked out just fine.