Ask Correia #13: Ripping Off Ideas

I got this posted to the comments a few days ago. My answer got really big so I turned it into another Ask Correia post on writing! 😀

Mr. Correia, like the poster above, I, too, am interested in a career in writing, but I have a bit of a different issue. Back in December, either Ace of Spades HQ or Instapundit (quite possibly both) linked to “An Opinion on Gun Control” and I duly read it. Having never heard of you or your work, I kept poking around your site and then picked up a copy of the Monster Hunters omnibus, partly because the series sounded awesome and partly because there were some vague similarities to a book idea I’ve been working on off and on for a couple years now (work and life have intervened, but I have somewhere between 20-30 pages of outlines and about the same number of pages written).

As I read first three Monster Hunter novels, I became increasingly more horrified over the number of surface level similarities (easily a dozen or so) between your books and the ideas I have on paper and in my head. The meat of what I’m working on is very different, but a good number of points are way too similar for my taste. I’m deathly afraid of accidentally ripping you off, or appearing to do so intentionally, so do you have any suggestions for what to do? I’ve already had to shelve 50 pages of rough draft a few years back when I happened to find a book at my local Barnes & Noble that was too close to that particular idea for my comfort (that book was a Da Vinci Code ripoff and mine was more of a spaghetti western set during the surge in Iraq, but both involved Alexander the Great’s mummified remains). I’m a bit at a loss for what to do, so any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


That is a really good question. All fiction writers, aspiring or pro, are going to run into this at some point. How do you avoid unintentionally ripping somebody off?  No real novelist wants to do this. We all want to tell a story, but sometimes we learn that something we thought was new really wasn’t, so then what?

Okay. First off, don’t worry about it. Yes. Plagiarism is bad. But we’re not talking about plagiarism, we’re talking about similar ideas, not outright copying. If you are straight up copying somebody else’s work you are scum.

We are talking about ideas. You don’t want to use somebody else’s ideas. That is a noble sentiment.  There is one problem with this however. Anything you think of, no matter how original it might seem, something similar has been done before.

Think of any current book, comic, movie, or TV show that you like. Odds are that there is some element of that story which has been done before. Is this a rip off? Probably not. Far more likely is that humans have been creating stuff for a very long time, and if you have thought of it, one of the millions of creators that came before you thought of it as well.

So go ahead and write it. Just make sure you put your unique spin on it. Give it your voice. Flavor it to your taste. By the time you are done it will have turned into its own original thing.

For example, I’ve seen people post reviews of MHI, and then somebody else will say in the comments, “Well that sounds just like Hell Boy/Buffy/Men in Black/Supernatural/1000 other things where people secretly fight monsters!” Yes. And the fact that you can name a whole bunch of things that have a similar basic idea shows that idea is commercially viable. Now once you read MHI and compare it to any of those you see that it is a different take on an idea that has been around for a very long time. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the only one about libertarian gun nut contractors in Alabama who deal with trailer park elves and gangster gnomes.

Stories are more than one particular idea. They are a whole bunch of ideas and characters and situations crammed together into one book. Sometimes you will have ideas that are very similar to one particular other creation, but which are totally different in other ways. Once again, that’s fine, because it is all about the personal spin you put on it.

For example, in the Grimnoir Chronicles, I’ve got this 1930s pulp setting where people have magic. However, I set it up so that magical people only have one type of magic that dinks around with one area of the laws of physics (and if you read this fantasy, you realize that it is actually sci-fi in a very weird way). Because people have only one area then the magic system has a very super hero vibe. So when I introduce the government wanting to register these magical people and throw the unruly ones into camps, I get accused of superficially ripping of X-Men by  a couple of reviewers.

Except that wasn’t even what I was going for, since the government loves to register everything so they can control it (and Grimnoir is actually a very political series), and the idea of the government throwing 140,000 Americans into camps without due process because they are different and scary isn’t that far fetched, especially when you consider the president I was writing about was FDR… You know… The guy that actually threw 140,000 Americans into camps without due process because they were different and scary… Heck. I even used the same camps like Topaz and Minidoka and some folks still missed that.

I get some reviewers who said I stole the idea from the X-Men, when actually I stole it from history, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that whoever created that story idea for the X-Men probably was familiar with FDR rounding up all the of the Japanese (because for the record, FDR was a jackass).

Not that me and the Marvel Universe aren’t square anyway, since the weekend Avengers came out I had 200 some odd emails asking me what I thought of the ending. I said that I really enjoyed SPOILER ALERT tossing a nuke through an interdimensional portal to cut off an invasion so much that I wrote it as the finale for a book and I liked the hero floating through space after going through an alien portal so much that I ended another novel too!

Do I think Joss Whedon copied MHI and MHV for that scene in the Avengers? Of course not. It was just too awesome not to do. I’m pretty sure that if you looked through the history of sci-fi, something similar had been done before as well, because if it is awesome, then somebody thought of it.

Another example… In Hard Magic, Jake Sullivan, who can control gravity, gets into a fight in a hotel hallway, and keeps shifting the pull of gravity’s direction against his opponent. Also in the same book, there’s another scene where he lightens gravity so that he can scale up an elevator cable quickly… So obviously when this book came out right after Inception I started getting slammed with LARRY CORREIA RIPPED OFF INCEPTION!!! WAAAAAAAH reviews. Except that the advanced reader copies of Hard Magic came out months before the movie did.

No relation. Similar ideas, but that’s it. When you actually compare the two, they really aren’t that similar at all, except that some doofus on the internet will always be counted on to whine. But these are the same people that thought Lord of the Rings like totally ripped off Harry Potter.

Agents and publishers get query letters all of the time saying “this idea of mine is so original and has never been done before!” and then they yawn as they read about a boy with a destiny who goes on a quest to defeat the dark overload by reclaiming the magic macguffin. But the good versions of that story will still sell and get published because people like to read that story.

If you think your idea is so super original, it probably isn’t, and you probably just haven’t read enough books to realize it.

There are very few works that are truly awesomely amazeballs original. And often these works suck and are incomprehensible.  Have you seen The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky? That is a truly original, visionary hour and a half of WTF? (and now Hugh Jackman is Buddha, wait… now he’s a conquistador… Only the conquistador is growing flowers out of his chest!)

Go to TV Tropes and read. These things are tropes because they work. They reappear often because human beings have been eating up stories for a very long time, and storytellers have learned tricks that work.

So don’t get too hung up on this. Write your story. No matter what you do, or how original you think you are, somebody, somewhere, is going to find some element of your story that is similar to something else that has been created before.  All that matters is that you tell the best story possible.

Okay, what if you are “inspired” by somebody else’s ideas? And you write something with ideas that are very similar? Well, that depends. I once got ripped off by a little game company, where the scenario was the freighter scene from MHI, they’d changed French to Russian, changed the characters names, and then pretty much everything else was the same… That was bad.

A good example? Yojimbo, Fistful of Dollars, and Last Man Standing aren’t just inspired by, they are the same exact story. Only the original was samurai, the next was cowboys, and the last was gangsters, and all three are drastically different movies. And the crazy part? Yojimbo was based on the novel Red Harvest by Hammett which was a gangster story. So the whole thing went full circle.

I’m excited by the previews for Pacific Rim, but I always get people saying “Well that’s just a rip off of Gundam/Robotech/various giant Robots fighting monsters stories!” Yes… But it has Giant Robots punching Godzillas while Luther gives a motivational speech! Sign me the hell up.

So tell the best story that you can, and make it your own. That’s the important thing.

Final stretch of some Kickstarters I'm in
The Drowning Empire, Episode 17: Isao on the Dragonspire

91 thoughts on “Ask Correia #13: Ripping Off Ideas”

  1. Quick summary from a script writing class I took: “There are no original ideas any more. Just retellings.” But as for the person that wrote that email? You’re a class act for voicing your concerns.

      1. Very definitely…and I’m disappointed that the spaghetti western set during the Iraqi surge with Alexander’s remains will remain untold. I really like that idea!

  2. Harlan Ellison has a great tale about one time he was doing a reading and taking questions. One interlocutor accused him of ripping off a plot – maybe Orpheus and Eurydice, maybe something else. Ellison straight-facedly asked “what parallels do you see?”. The audience member went on and on and on, and slowly became aware of the snickering in the audience. Only then did it dawn on him that Ellison was at least as familiar with Western Culture as he was and had explicitly written the story as an homage.

    Anyway, I 100% agree with Larry on this: there are a finite number of ideas, and they get used over and over and over. Check out (MEMETIC HAZARD WARNING: can be addictive!).

    I’ve made up a list of the 20 or 30 books and short stories I’ve cribbed ideas from for my novel: everything from Brin’s Uplift series to Heinlein’s MiaHM to WH40k to the classic short story “The Cold Equations” and on and on and on.

    Even if there are some ideas that I THINK are novel, I’m sure that if I was (even more) widely read in science fiction I’d find that every single one of them was prefigured by someone else who did it 2 years (or 92 years) earlier.

    As with cooking, music, and everything else, the trick is to give it your own style and your own unique mixture of ingredients. Every chord change, riff and spice has been used before, but you can still do something unique and worth doing!

    1. Heck yeah.

      It is all in how you tell the story. I’m working on a number of projects, a couple screenplays, various short stories and a novel. All on subjects that have been done before.

      Hell, my screenplay is a vampire story. How many times has that been done? Which is why I’m making it my own story, with my own vampire history(vampires have been around a very, very long time) their weakness and strengths(the sun doesn’t kill them nor are they effected by religious symbols) and my Protagonist are two ex-Green Berets.

      You just have to make it your own.

      1. And all is right with the world again. LOL

        Nothing against Stephanie Meyers. She wrote to her target audience. Wrote very well. I just happen to NOT be in her target audience. More of a “Team VanHelsing” guy. LOL

      2. Also imagine the meanest predator you can who is fast and stronger than you.

        The only way to kill them is take their head off and destroy it and the body. Head shots slow them down, torso shots piss them off. You could also blow them up, which will happen.

        Sunlight only makes them a little stronger and faster than you, so the best time is to fight them during the day, with lots of guns, explosives and fire.

      3. Rabidalien: Yup.

        She was writing for teen girls. So her vampires were all sparkly heart-throbs.

        L. Neil Smith was writing for libertarians when he wrote his one vampire novel, Sweeter than Wine ( A libertarian-conservative gets turned in a collapsed front-lines basement during WWI ).

    2. Check out

      TJIC, I know you know this already, and actually I’m ok with it, but you are an asshole.

      “(MEMETIC HAZARD WARNING: can be addictive!)” isn’t even close to enough of a label for that website.

      You need a warning label like “IF YOU GO TO THIS WEBSITE YOU WILL LOSE HOURS OF YOUR LIFE. YOU WILL FINALLY CLOSE THE LAST TAB ON YOUR WIKIWANDER AND SAY ‘Hey, why am I so hungry? Why is it dark outside? Why do I hear the trash truck? The trash truck doesn’t come until… OH FUCK, IT’S THURSDAY?!?!’.”

      I’m just sayin’, is all. 😛

      1. “Oh man, there so is. I swear to god that site is a bloody black hole.”
        Just what I need another site that absorbs my time. Between and the educational side of youtube it’s a wonder I ever sleep.

      2. Oh lawd
        Larry Correia reads tvtropes. If we’re on the subject of memetic hazard warning, tvtropes is a Keter-class memetic cause it’s that absorbing. Think of reading it as selling a bit of your soul. On the one hand you never truly think of fiction the same way again and are, in a way, ruined, and you can see plot twists a mile away. On the other, it’ll bring some great improvements in your writing. Hell, it’s what taught me how to actually write characters! ^~^

      3. Youtube documentaries suck me in. I call it research. Just that Time Commanders, and Modern Marvels and other such things just eat up my time…

      4. There are fora where “posting a TVTropes link” is a PERMA-BAN-worthy offense.

        Which is why I want to create a program which, every day for two weeks prior to finals weeks at all major universities, sends every student with an e-mail address randomly-selected TVTropes links…. >:)

    3. Anyway, I 100% agree with Larry on this: there are a finite number of ideas

      Are there now? (Evil grin). Do you happen to know what the space of all possible ideas looks like? I’ve got a few ideas of my own about that.

      Okay, okay, granted: The space of human-comprehensible ideas that make sense as stories (as opposed to “wuoi012q34tH@$%YU>”) is a locally far smaller subset and has a lot more structure than “all possible ideas”.

      1. I’m reminded of an episode of v-sauce where they explain it’s possible to run out of different song variants, but not really because it’s such a large number it’s almost infinity.

        He mentions a theoretical program that can generate all 5 min audio tracks, and that it could then be filtered to the human hearing range, and further filtered to dialogue only. This theoretical program could spit out every conversation ever had, every variant of every conversation, and ones that never occurred. Unfortunately it spits out true and false statements with the same frequency.

        Just imagine the possibilities of such a program. It could spit out theoretical physics equations and then we just test the equation to see if it’s true. If true we keep it, if false we toss it.

    4. I reblogged Larry’s post. Then tonight, I came up with an idea for a plot for a story. Wondering if it was done to death before, I put it up in my writer’s group and a soul responded, “just do it”. An idea probably has been thought of before countless times. Just how we put it forth is unique. That is what people want. Your unique voice in whatever, however different flavor, is a good thing.

  3. And, of course, there is always the monomyth as set forth in “Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell if you want a totally scholarly explanation of why there is nothing new under the heroic sun.

    And no, a “monomyth” isn’t the rumor that you can cure mono by eating cherry yogurt for a week.

    1. Or you could read Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun…” – I find this comforting, as it frees me (a songwriter) from the terrible burden of originality…

  4. Original commenter here. Thank you, Mr. Correia, for answering and for the clarification. I think it might be that leftover high school/college honor code indoctrination that plagiarism is on par with eating puppies, and thus I’ve probably an overly sensitive feeling for that kind of thing. Not that that’s a bad mentality to have over all.

    1. Very definitely…and I’m disappointed that the spaghetti western set during the Iraqi surge with Alexander’s remains will remain untold. I really like that idea!

  5. Hey, Sanderson stole your gravity thing with his character who could ‘lash’ himself or other things and change their gravitational direction in The Way of Kings.

    Or maybe you are both just super creative. Nah, can’t be.

    1. Hehehehehhehehe, the back and forth between Correia and Sanderson is awesome. I think they both just like making up new systems of magic.

      I’m not actually sure whether Hard Magic came out before Mistborn (and I don’t care) but there’s definitely similarities there, but obviously, the stories are completely different.

      Also, just in case he’s reading, I AM SO WAITING FOR MORE WAY OF KINGS BOOKS. I’ve read the first one four times already. Also, Brent Weeks? Please to be cranking out more of the “Black Prism” books faster, yes? (Speaking of novel and cool magic systems.)

  6. I seem to recall reading David Gerrold writing about how he was horrified when someone pointed out how similar tribbles were to Martian flatcats, especially since he had READ The Rolling Stones years before. I think he mentioned that Heinlein himself told him not to worry about it…

    Disclaimer – it’s been a LONG time since I read The Making of The Trouble With Tribbles, so I could be wrong in some of this.

    1. I may also be misremember the comments in “Making of Trouble With Tribbles” but you’re basically correct. Of course, it was “fun” when he was told that RAH wanted a copy of the script and he signed it in such a way that RAH would know that Gerrold was a fan. [Grin]

      IIRC RAH had said that he had taken the flatcats from a story called “Pigs Is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler.

  7. Thanks for posting this, Larry, and many major kudos to the original question-er. For every one person willing to voice a question, there are a hundred more (or a thousand, I was never good at math) who had the same question but did not speak up. I’ve often worried about being told I was copying _____ in my own writings, but heck, anything fictional can probably be traced back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s original “Good vs. Evil” theme, which in and of itself is nothing new, either. He just included elves and dwarves.

  8. J. Michael Straczynski had a good example of this. Take the basic plot:

    Boy meets girl,
    Boy falls in love,
    Boy looses girl,
    Boy dies trying to get girl back.

    One take on this plot gets you Romeo and Juliet. Another take gets you King Kong.

    1. Boy makes out with girl under a beautiful moon which then explodes for no readily discernable reason.

  9. Take a look at “The Fountains of Paradise” and “The Web Between the Worlds”. Both came out within days of each other. Both were based on orbital elevators. One was written by Arthur C. Clarke and the other by a relatively unknown Charles Sheffield.

    Then of course there is “Romeo and Juliet” vs. “West Side Story”. I know which one had the better music…

    1. I always thought that the ‘mooring technique’ (i.e. “we drop the anchors from orbit into concrete mineshafts with extremely tight tolerances because simple is for suckers”) in Web Between the Worlds was basically just so Sheffield could say that HIS orbital elevator was totally unlike everyone else’s orbital elevator.

  10. You’re in good company Larry. John Ringo once told me basically the same thing when I inadvertently ripped off an idea of his for a story I wrote. I apologized and he told me not to worry about it.

    Must be why I love both of you guys. In a completely platonic and manly way of course.

  11. I just read David Farland’s book on Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Really liked it. Recommend reading for the person whose comment was the subject of Larry’s post.

  12. Yeah, tossing nukes thru portals to stop alien invasions was also used by John Ringo in the Vorpal Blade series. It’s just a standard scifi plot factor that works.

      1. Also in the Babylon 5 movie “Thirdspace”. It’s a good way to get rid of nasty aliens from other dimensions, apparently. =)

      2. E.E. “Doc” Smith would routinely throw a whole planet through gates like these, moving at barely sublight speed, followed by a planet-sized antimatter bomb. Then the entire fleet would englobe the hole and fire everything at whatever survived to come through (imagine the final battle in the Matrix trilogy, with the walkers firing at the entry portal as the monster machines come through, except that it’s in space and it works because nobody has to stop to reload).

  13. The thing that gets me about the Yojimbo -> Fistful Of Dollars -> Last Man Standing relationship is that the first transformation works very well indeed, and the second (to LMS) doesn’t.

    Another relationship between films that I like to think about is Eldorado & Rio Bravo (or, rather reverse that). Same director. Same lead. Same basic plot. Both work.

    I’m told that some people consider that a third film, Rio Lobo, is the last of a set of three, but the dynamics of Rio Lobo strike me as not as close asa the other two.

    1. Hell, it’s only when we started actually *recording* these things that we got such a strong idea of ripoffs. In stage theatre it’s *assumed* that every production of a play will be the same story but with the individual touch of the performers. Yet somehow we still see Shakespeare on stage.

      1. Yeah, funny how Shakespeare is fair game for reinterpretation without the supposed stigma. Hey, let’s do a production where Hamlet… is an android! How avant-garde! What a brave weltanschauung! Um, hold on, I may have to write down a few notes.

  14. Good reply, not that you need me to tell you that. It made me think though that I may have subconsciously react to the whole throw a nuke through a wormhole thing in my own novel where I have that as not being such a good idea.

    I wonder where that idea has been done before to?

    PS: Enjoy the painting posts. I too do a bit of miniature painting for games, which you can see, if you are interested here:

  15. In Secret Window, Secret Garden, Stephen King (yes, I know Larry likes to dump on him) points out that, in the end, there are only 6 stories and all others are just permutations and combinations.

    1) Man vs. Man
    2) Man vs. Nature
    3) Man vs. Himself
    4) Love lost
    5) Love found
    6) Mistaken identity

    Come to think of it, I had a lit teacher in high school point that out, too.

    I’m just not sure if zombies count as #1 or #2.

    1. Depending on how smart your zombies are, it could be #1 or #2. If the zombies are no smarter than animals, then IMO it would be “man vs nature”.

    2. But what if you are writing from the zombie’s point of view?

      That would be an interesting Hard Magic book. A Wehrmacht recruit gets “resurrected” by the Kaiser’s apothecaries … over and over again, like a gruesome version of Haldeman’s Forever War.

      1. Hopefully he gets to eat Kaiser Willy’s brains when they toss his sorry ass into what is left of Berlin.

      2. It would still be Man vs. Man, since the Zombie would be intelligent enough for the reader to ‘see’ from his POV.

    3. It could also count at #4– someone’s love gets zombified and he/she has to put the bullet(s) in the new zombie’s head.

      Isn’t one of the subplots of Zombieland a #6?

      A Zombie #5 would be weird.

      1. Given that SW,SG was published in 1991, and my lit teacher wouldn’t have even graduated college yet at that time, I find that doubtful.

        Although, given my teacher’s taste in books, I could definitely see the theft happening the other way around.

  16. What a classy question and elegant response.

    TV outlines and scripts I registered with WGA have been made into successful shows, some not involving me. In the middle of pitching one of them it was discovered a show was already in production with
    the same set up and theme. It is currently a hit.

    Although it’s almost identical to my concept (mine was registered 4 months before their pilot was). There is no way they could have seen my story, I had another things in production and that concept had yet to be pitched or distributed.

    One of the reasons the show is such a success is the characters. The 2 stars are far superior and more interesting than anything I have created. Same story, better writing and development. It’s the characters that sell the show, book, comic, play. It happens, you just keep writing and try and get better.

    In the second instance the timing was the same, but there is a direct connection with me pitching the show to an industry insider who worked directly with the “creator” of the new show. He came up with HIS idea 3 months later, coincidence ? I’m not so sure, neither is my lawyer.

    On a semi interesting note it has been suggested that another concept and pilot I have done be rewritten as a book so that the producer can make a big deal about buying the rights and creating “buzz”. The book would not be written by me but a “name “author using my exact story but fleshing it out. Its a strange world we live in.

    good luck with the writing correia45

  17. Yea I do tell people that Grimnoir chronicles is X-men with magic but not because I think its a rip-off. Just because its the fastest possible way to get them to buy the books

  18. IIRC Robert Heinlein once said all stories are the same all we do is scrap off the serial numbers and change the names and places.

  19. I know exactly how this person feels. I strive to make things as original as I can, but quite early on I learned how difficult it is to make something that doesn’t resemble preexisting works to one degree or another, so it’s reassuring to hear a professional writer, like Larry, say this.

    Sometimes I don’t mind finding similarities, because it makes think a bit more about my ideas and sometimes improve them. The catch is that I’ve sometimes found myself rebuilding a character or some aspect of my fiction to avoid the resemblance of one story only to find out I’ve simply ended up making them similar to what’s in another different story. So I’ve learned to take into account any similarities I find with the works of others and deal with them case-by-case. I’ll change things if the issue is major or if I think doing so will improve the story, but I try not to obsess over it, like I did in the past, and just move on, since you really can’t avoid this issue completely.

    Because I love sharing, I can think of my own examples of this problem. Here is one of the big ones. Years ago, I remember thinking how original my story was. A tale that began during World War I involving sorcerers having to defend themselves against people who hate magic, but are obviously magical or using magic themselves. Then one day, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim introduced a new anime series to American basic cable. Fullmetal Alchemist. A show that, though set in an alternate universe, took place in a time period when the technology, except for bionics, was about on par with the early 20th century, there had been a recent war and there was this guy called Scar. Guess who hates magic and goes around killing alchemists with his own magic.

    I remember telling myself that it wasn’t a big deal when the first couple similarities showed up, but they just kept on adding up and there are a lot more I can go into. Of course there were major differences, but it was almost creepy how some of the same ideas I had appeared in that show. Ultimately, there were some other problems I never solved in a satisfactory way, so I eventually scrapped the story. In the end, I likely would have abandoned it even if FMA never existed due to the other reasons, so I’m not bitter about it.

    Another example involved a short story I was working on. I planned out the middle and ending of the story in a way I liked a lot. It was centered around a guy who after some suspicious occurrences sets up video cameras to see what’s happening as he sleeps which ends up with him capturing a very WTF scene, but I was never happy with how the story started so I sat on it for about a year just mulling things over. Imagine my delight when I saw the first commercial for Paranormal Activity, announcing what a big hit it was.

  20. But these are the same people that thought Lord of the Rings like totally ripped off Harry Potter.

    Well duh. Wizard with a long grey beard? I mean, come on, folks!



    It’s kinda funny. I just watched Hellboy again the other week, and the part I thought the MHI universe was most like wasn’t actually like, the “Monster Hunting” part, it was more the similarities between Rasputin and Martin, and also the evil floating tentacle blimps from another dimension.

    Which, well, yeah. Evil tentacle monsters aren’t exactly new. Hell, even Lovecraft was probably ripping off someone else. And a guy who walks out of the shadows? That is pretty much half the horror movies ever made.

    1. Two nights ago (on Monday, 25 November, 2013), I watched an episode of Studio C put on BYU TV. They had a skit where someone was starting work at a cafe that gave stories out to people; it had George Lucas ordering an orphan living with his uncle, boy of destiny, etc…and JK Rawling saying “I’ll have what he’s having…that, too…and that”, and the new hire looking on this in horror. “But they’re the same!” she said. “Nope, my hero wears glasses” said Rawling.

      Sometimes the similarities are obvious. I was unaware of this particular set of similarities until I saw this particular skit!

      When you consider that humans thrive off of narratives–and that common themes are even /desirable/, because it gives a story a certain context that makes it familiar for us–is it any wonder that these themes are used, over and over again?

    2. Incidentally, I would add that it’s sometimes interesting to see how these similarities crop up. Disney’s “Hercules” doesn’t seem to match up with the Greek hero’s life…but once, when watching “Clash of the Titans”, I became convinced that Hercules is a remake of that! And “Atlantis” almost seems to be a remake of “StarGate” (which I learned later, that enough people made that observation, that a Disney spokesman had to say publicly that they did not deliberately copy “StarGate”).

      And I was unaware of any similarity between “Sword of Shanara” and “Lord of the Rings” until I found a forum topic talking about how awful of a “ripoff” that was; while I could see the similarities, I remember enough differences to think it ridiculous to call it a “ripoff”!

    3. Lovecraft freely admitted his debt to Lord Dunsany. You have to go back from Dunsany to follow that trail. To his credit, HPL was never averse to having others play in his universe.

  21. The best way I’ve heard it put is “bad writers copy, good writers steal”. I’ve alwasy taken it to mean that a good writer takes things that have been done before and makes them his own -spins things in is own voice and adds his own touch to make it unique, rather than a straight lift that just swaps out some surface detail

  22. I think it’s funny you mentioned Dashiell Hammett as he is one of my favorite Pulp style writers.

    In 1936 they made “Satan Met a Lady” which was a remake of “The Maltese Falcon”. Change Maltese Falcon for some fancy Rams horn. Change “Fatman” to an elderly portly heiress and you’ve pretty much got the same story down to a tee.

    Good ideas get redone all the time, some are a little more on the nose than others. There is a reason why tropes keep popping up though. They work, they are the skeletal framework that has been proven to work.

    In fact I’m convinced that every “Hey bonehead (or similar insult, fatman, idiot, blondie) get me the file from that desk” “I have a name you know” format is written because the author doesn’t actually have a name for the character yet, but has the physical description. Why do I think this, because at 3am last week I accidentally did this. It amused me so I kept it. The following morning I came up with a name for “bonehead”.

    I’m not copying anyone, but it’s a familiar trope. It works though, it prevented me from taking time to come up with a name so I could finish the scene. Better I kept the pace of the scene up instead of stopping to name the character right then and there.

  23. Great answer to a question quite literally old as authorship. Not to get too scholarly but the concept of an original idea is only valid relatively knew. In fact, in its early stages English fiction (literature) the concept was the other way around — you did not right without Auctoritas — or put differently the only valid way to right was to take an acceptable and proven concept and build around it — below is a half-way decent explanation.

    Auctor – Auctoritas: The Latin word auctor is the source for the modern English word author, but the medieval word carries a special resonance and seriousness the modern word lacks. The terms differ in intellectual connotation. Thus, when Chaucer writes of ‘mine auctor,’ he suggests his source is especially authoritative because that writer incorporates non-original (but valuable) ideas into his own work. The power of an auctor comes not from his novelty or originality, instead, the author takes conventional, authoritative ideas, and uses these concepts to supplement his own thinking in an original manner. The auctor, thus, uses established, valuable material to supplement his original ideas without slavishly regurgitating them. We see the distinction spelled out most clearly by Saint Bonaventure.

  24. Just thought that someone should mention Neon Genesis Evangelion since Pacific Rim was featured as an example…

    1. That’s a more apt reference, from what I’ve seen of Pacific Rim so far. The mechs in NGE were controlled off sight by umbilicals, and the ones in Pacific Rim look to be remote operated as well.

    2. Actually, _Pacific Rim_’s mecha are closer to a lesser-known horror anime titled _Betterman_, particularly with the dual-pilot routine (and _PR_’s pilots are nearly as FUBAR-in-the-head as _NGE_’s).

  25. Reblogged this on Scott Howard Phillips and commented:
    And while I’m at it I’ll reblog this too. In this post Larry Correia answers a question on what to do when the story you’re working on is similar to an already-published work. Correia gives lots of encouraging advice in this post, and I thought I’d share it with you all.

  26. You my friend are freaking awesome, intelligent and I am glad you wrote about this – my book coming out this year HAS inspirations from MANY fandoms, i’m a nerd – but i’ve done my damndest to make it my own so it’s no longer “A FANFIC” and now it’s own universe.

  27. Have any of you ever done MDMP? Thats Military Decision Making Process (a soul sucking exercise from which Vampires originated. Dracula was a piker compared to bureaucratic REMFs). We have a saying that if you steal once its plagiarism. If you do it a thousand times its research.

  28. Thank you so much for this.

    I have for a very long time have been wanting to write something. I do read a lot, both comic books and novels…etc.

    I lately really enjoy stories much like yours and Weston Ochse and my uber fan crush Jonathan Maberry. So I have always wanted write something in the vein of these kind of stories. My fear has always been writing something that was to familiar to what you and some other author has already put out there.

    But recently after speaking to a friend who owns an independent bookstore here in Delaware and has done stuff for Maberry. Reading your comments here and kind of listening to what my head tells me. I can see that not all things are original. Sure there might be some new spin on something, but at it’s core it just maybe something that has been done dozens of times over.

    So from all of this I can see that I can write my story. Sure it may have elements similar to others that have already been published or appeared in a movie or on TV. This maybe true, but it is my spin on it. My ideas, my creation, my characters.

    I am now in the process of outlining my first book and seeing where this whole process takes me.

    As the great C.J. Henderson once said when I was lucky enough to sit in on one of his book signings/readings.

    He said as a fan of books, write your story, I would love to read it. As an author though I do not need the competition……granted this is a rough quote. It has been a long time since I saw him at this particular moment. The idea behind still lingers in my head.

    I have read your first book in the MHI series. Number two sits on my pile of unread books. I will be getting to it soon. I am currently reading the third V-Wars anthology. Once I am done…next MHI book is next.

    Thank you for your work….I really enjoy it.

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