I’m reading a novel that, interestingly enough, includes many of the elements within DawnSinger, one of my own novels that released in a previous year. The stories are much alike, having similar premises, themes, devices, concepts, slang, imagery, and even a main character with the same name spelled differently.
Could the similarities be caused by coincidence? Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but it’s easy to suspect they aren’t. Plagiarism? Well, no. The story and its expression sufficiently differ from mine to avoid that. There’s the possibility that my story simply influenced this novel, which is a different thing entirely.
However, this novel could also be described as derivative. That’s too bad, since the author writes well and doesn’t need to borrow from anyone else’s work, although she may not have believed that.
This sort of thing isn’t limited to literary works. I once wrote program notes for a symphony, and while researching, learned that composers sometimes go through imitative phases before discovering their own unique voices. This, of course, begs the question of whether imitation is a necessary in order for artists to learn and grow.
In my opinion, gleaned from observing several of my writing friends who rocketed to quick success, the opposite could be true. It’s hard enough to be yourself, let alone someone you’re not. My friends followed their own stars with a single-mindedness I’ll call admirable (rather than obsessive). Their platforms grew by leaps and bounds as a result. It’s taken me a while to sort out the focus for my own author platform, but as soon as I did. I can only conclude that people recognize those who know who they are and what they are doing. (Imagine that.)
Are you a story crafter or storyteller? They are different. Speaking in generalities, those who imitate are crafters and those who originate are storytellers. While craft can be learned, storytelling is a gift. It’s possible to apply storytelling techniques to a borrowed story, but there’s no substitute for telling a unique story that originates from your own focus and message.
This calls for a strong sense of self, not easy to develop sometimes. Walt Disney is a great example of this. I find it fascinating that for years now, some of the top articles at Live Write Breathe are Writing Tips From a Master: What Walt Disney Knew About Storytelling and Open Letter to Walt Disney From Another Storyteller. Read them for more of my thoughts on telling an original story.
Imitating a work you admire might be tempting, but developing your own unique stores from the start and remaining true to your storytelling gift will take you further.
What’s your take on this topic?