Plagerism Or Creative License?

I stayed up late to finish Jann Martel’s, Life of Pi so I would be ready to see the movie version the next day. How could such a complex, beautifully crafted allegory be adapted to the silver screen?  After seeing the movie (which I thought was very good) I HAD to know more about the author and where he got the brilliant idea for his novel. I searched cyberspace only to find that Jann Martel was accused of plagiarizing Life Of Pi. By his own admission, Martel had read a review of a novel with a strikingly similar premise, written by a Brazilian author.  Martel also claims he was never able to find, let alone read, Moacyr Scliar’s book.  Nevertheless, accusations were hurled.

As a writer wannabee I am always searching for new characters, new plot lines, new ways to string words together. But just when I think I have created a story that no one could even imagine, let alone put on paper, I find that MY STORY was stolen and is now a New York Times Best Seller. What psychic ability did J.K. Rowling use to span the Atlantic Ocean and pluck Harry Potter out of my head?

How many of my writer friends have had similar experiences?

All of them.

That is because there is nothing new under the sun.

I can craft a story involving a vacuum cleaner, a Chihuahua, an alien life form, and an elderly widower. Place them in Atlanta, Jamaica or Hong Kong. Write it first person or third person, from the vacuum cleaner’s, dog’s or widower’s prospective and somewhere, somehow, some else has had a similar idea. Maybe it is already published or still just the seed of a story in another writer wannabee’s head.  But writer friends, do not despair.  Short of photocopying another author’s published work, I believe it is virtually impossible for two people to create the exact same story.  It is time to stop using this as an excuse to throw your manuscript in the trash. There are only so many things to draw from in the universe, but there are also unlimited ways to put these things together.

So, sharpen your pencils, boot up your laptop, and dust off those ideas that you discarded years ago. What you write is uniquely yours. Get back to work!

Potential

When I wake up in the morning, I’m afraid to open my eyes. So I do it slowly, peeking out through my skimpy eyelashes. Sometimes there are only a few of them standing around my bed, other times the bedroom is full, all of them crammed together like so many sardines in an oily can. If I slide back down under the blankets and throw the duvet over my face they will go away.

Coffee, that’s what I need. It’ll help clear my head.

When I get to the kitchen, Ethel is standing next to the sink. “What are you doing here?” I ask her. “I killed you off in Chapter 5.”

“There’s always hope,” she says. “I can be undead in a single keystroke, or resurrected in Chapter 6.” Her eyes meet mine. “There’s no Chapter 6 yet, is there?” she says.

“You don’t need to remind me.” My stock remark flows from my mouth. “I’ll work on it later.”

Ethel disappears into the steam drifting from my coffee cup.

The worst part of the day is when I go to my computer. So many of them huddled around me, jockeying for a better view of the screen.

“It’s my turn,” Marvin whines. “You abandoned me mid-sentence, and I’ve been dangling there for weeks. Do I ever get home?”

I click an icon and begin downloading my email. Nothing from any of the agents or editors I queried the day before. I am the only one who sighs.

A tall, handsome man with a mustache pats me on the shoulder. “You need to move on. For God’s sake, you haven’t even named me yet. Will I ever be more than a poorly organized paragraph? Look at me! I’m full of potential!”

“Me too,” I mumble. “Full of potential.”

I slowly move the mouse and click on Facebook. The shadowy figures, so full of potential, fade away.