Good Authors Borrow, Great Authors Steal.

Like the title?  I do.  Why?  Because it is absolutely true. 

How do I know this?

Simple, some of the biggest money making stories on page and film are shining examples.

Case in point: Star Wars.

Yup.  Star Wars.  Now before you roll your eyes and move on to something else, hear me out on this.  Way back, a long time ago in a history not so far away, back in the days before movies had things like a color picture, three dimensions, or even sound, there as a little movie called “Metropolis.”  It came out in 1927 and was directed by Fritz Lang.

”Metropolis” featured a character who bears a striking resemblance to a certain golden skinned ‘droid from a movie that came out 50 years later.  Did Lucas know what he was doing?  You bet he did.  But what he did, and what you must do if you intend to do this, is to make what you steal your own.

In the case of C-3P0, Lucas made him a neurotic robot with a penchant for getting into trouble.  Not only that, but he coupled this tall golden droid with a short, barrel like counterpart, and made them key factors in that first movie.  He made them a comic team similar to another famous duo- Laurel and Hardy, familiar icons from his youth. 

I’ll give you another example.  Remember the movie “Avatar” from James Cameron?  It was a huge movie which set records at the box office.  Now what if, instead of in space on a faraway planet, we set that movie on the American frontier?  Also instead of a crippled Marine, we make the hero a disenchanted Civil War hero and change the blue skinned “Na’vi”, into a tribe of Lakota Sioux?  Same story where the soldier becomes a member of his newfound tribe, learns that his own people are not as honorable as maybe once he thought, and falls in love with a native.  Doesn’t that sound like “Dances With Wolves?”

Cameron did the same thing with Avatar that Lucas did with Metropolis.  Except Cameron pulled more from a single source, whereas Lucas borrowed from a number of different places.  They both took something someone else created, and made it their own.  They changed enough to create their own characters and have their own story- and in doing so, they have presented some of the best known and best loved stories of modern times.

So, can you think of any examples of a writer or director stealing something and making it his own? 

Can you see where something like this might work for your own story? 

What are some of the pitfalls you might run into, if you were to attempt this?

When submitted for feed back, some of the opinions stated:

**It’s important to note that using established character arcs to plot out a story is nothing new and has been employed way back in the Greek Chorus.

**There’s nothing new under the sun.

**I freely admit that I have “stolen” a lot of ideas from multiple sources developing something completely new in my stories. I make enough changes that my stories always come out unique. I have been influenced by, Star Wars, War of the Worlds, and Thundercats to name a few. In a sense I see it as paying homage to works that I have enjoyed. 

**Thanks to Doug, Charles, and Anthea for their insightful comments on this topic.

Feel free to add your own in the comments below!


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