While Marilyn is on a writers retreat working on her next novel, those of us left in the office thought it would be a good time to discuss the topic of Inspiration versus Imitation. Following are our thoughts on where this topic plays out, not just in the writer’s world, but also in other creative fields such as Fashion Design, Music and even Art. We are not talking about outright forgery escapades, but rather the “use” of an idea, and when it is inspiration and not outright imitation or theft of that idea.
We look forward to hearing your feedback below as to what inspires your creative endeavors and at what point you would consider someone to have “stolen” your work.
Over the years there have been numerous court cases, including a recent music industry case where a young music performer was sued by the family of a music legend alleging that the new song was really a use of the old tune with new words. Another famous case is the book Gone with the Wind and its parody, The Wind Done Gone. There was even a recent exhibition at the FIT Museum, Faking It, showcasing the Inspiration versus Imitation theme in the fashion world.
Some of the recent surge in imitation rather than inspiration for your writing, music, art, or fashion design is based on the rapid sharing given to us by technology.
For example, in the fashion world the production cycle has gotten so fast and inexpensive that couture collections are often “knocked off” before they leave the runway. This is especially true with the access modern technology brings (anyone with an internet connection can sign up at Style.com to view photos of designers’ collections). Large fashion retailers (especially “fast-fashion” stores) will have in-house designers create “inspired” (aka imitation) pieces from popular collections and have them in the stores before the collections themselves are even available.
As Marilyn always teaches her students, you can only write from what and who you know. The trick to using what and who you know as inspiration for your writing, while not crossing the line to imitation is to mix up the categories. In other words, let a painting you’ve seen in a museum inspire one of your characters or take a trait from a boy you knew in grade school and apply it to your female heroine.
Here are some more examples:
You could take a scene that you witness on a sale day in the women’s shoe department of a major department store and use the chaos as inspiration for your writing for a scene in a natural or man-made disaster climactic incident in one of your scripts.
You could utilize a conversation you overheard at a sporting event talking about the players and their stats and utilize the discussion as inspiration for your writing of an office scene in your next novel.
Try using the image from a recent subway ride of varied outfits and behaviors to enhance your characters.
To summarize, internalizing that which you see around you and incorporating those images, conversations and ideas is inspiration. Lifting and using is copying otherwise known as imitation and does not reflect well on your writing and creativity.