Taking Inspiration from Another’s Work


A few days ago, I read a powerful 100 word flash fiction piece from an individual who I think is a masterful writer. In reading his story, a novel unfolded in my mind on the spot. The trouble is, the novel needs his words –his idea– to open it. The other author’s words are that powerful. Without his opening, my idea disintegrates.

I thought about the ethics of this. I could re-write the opening to make it my own, but the whole idea of the book exploded from reading the work of another. Legally, there is absolutely no trouble in doing what I’ve suggested. Ideas aren’t copyright-able. But ethically. . .

Maybe it is because the original work belongs to someone I “know” that this whole thought line even started. But it is the first time I’ve given it a thought.

I know, I know. . .there is nothing new under the sun. In truth, the story told by the other writer isn’t new. The human story isn’t new.

But those words of his, they haunt me, even now. And that is exactly why I think they are the perfect words–even re-written–to open a novel.

I wrote to encourage the writer to do just that, expand his flash fiction piece into a full-blown story. I hope he does. Maybe then the urge inside me to explore that story will be quelled. But then, I know his full length story would not be the full length story I want to tell.

So there we go. I am back to start of my dilemma. Any thoughts?

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17 responses »

  1. As you said, Fay, an idea is not copyright-able. If you are just using his idea, then that is okay. Many great books have been inspired by other other books. Dan Brown came up with Digital Fortress after reading Sidney Sheldon’s Doomsday Conspiracy.
    Kate Lauren came up with the Fallen series based on one line in Genesis in the Bible.
    As long as you don’t write each scene as a play by play of his story, using the same exact characters, same ending, same words, then it is okay.

    I really have no idea telling other authors my story ideas for fear of it being stolen because only I can write it in my style and with my unique spin. Every writer has their own way of telling a story–their talent, which cannot be lifted or stolen. I was at a writer’s conference once where there were two mystery authors who had both written books based on the very same true murder case. Even though they were based on the same story, both books were written in that own author’s style to make for two completely different books.

  2. Legally, you can do it. Personally, I wouldn’t. Why risk bad blood with other writers when you can do something amazing with only a spark for an idea instead of another writer’s flash? If you really can’t get the idea out of your mind, why not ask the author if they’d like to co-write a book?

    • You always are creative in your solutions! I also thought about directly quoting the piece with the author’s name (and permission) to start the story. My character couold be reading the piece. It would give a plug to the other author while letting me use his powerful words. xoxo for your reply.

  3. I like the idea of chatting with the other author and telling him you were inspired by his flash fiction. So inspired, in fact, you plan to do a whole novel around his 100 words. You would, of course, mention him in your intro/credits as your inspiration for writing this novel.

    • Love you! I’d give you full credit! I’ve decided to ask the author to quote his piece in entirety (and his name as author) and use it as a device: my character is reading it as the story opens. Then the exact words that seized me can seize the reader. Voila. Magic. And I can look myself in the mirror. 🙂

  4. Can’t you talk to the other author? You can do a shared work, maybe? Andre Norton was a co-writer (or maybe even not that) for many books based on the Witchworld. Sure, at first she wrote many of those novels herself. But think of the last books. 🙂

  5. If permission is given and credit is given then I say go for it! Just getting the story out in the light might inspire others.

  6. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I
    stumbleupon every day. It’s always exciting to read through articles from other authors and use a little something from other sites.

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