This week’s episode of Suits reminds us that you can’t copyright ideas. The subplot revolves around a young executive assistant at a publishing house who sues her employer who takes a plot treatment (read: story idea) she wrote and gives it to a famous author, who then writes it and sells millions of copies.
The BAM moment comes when Mike, the autodidactic, perfect recalling associate, piles a list of titles from the previous 5 years from that publishing house which could have been written from the same plot treatment, saying:
“There’s nothing new under the sun.”
With the Wall Street Journal covering the “rise” of fanfiction (way to be 40 years behind the scoop guys), it’s useful to remember that writing, good or bad, all comes from a collective cultural plot. As special a snowflake as I may feel when I write a short story about the future of translation at the end of the world, I know I cribbed the characterization from Forever War and Hurt Locker, the focus on language from my Arabic class, the world building from Chronicles of Riddick and my trips to Cairo, and the drop-in computer center from a non-profit for which I volunteer.
To make it sound like it’s only proper for a writer to be inspired by what actually happens to her expects that writers are not also readers. Most of my friends are books; why, when I come to tell my own stories, wouldn’t I use stories they tell me as much as stories my human friends tell? It doesn’t make me less of a writer to give credit, to acknowledge, to celebrate that I draw on the world and works around me: it makes me a more honest one.
(Less soap-box-y, here’s one of my favorite lines from this week’s episode):
PS: I’m not even playing “guess the OTP of this fandom.” With lines like this:
It’s easier than shooting fish in a barrel (which Mythbusters shows is conclusively easy).
“As [American poet Ruth Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, run like hell to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would continue on across the landscape looking for ‘another poet’.” – Elizabeth Gilbert