There are plenty of reasons why writers don’t like to share their work. Negative feedback, or just plain being ignored are two of the biggest worries. But a lot of writers are also concerned about having their ideas stolen. And it is a perfectly legitimate fear. We writers work hard to find and develop our ideas into workable plots. Our ideas are very personal to us. We pour our hearts and souls into our books. So to have that hard work stolen from us can be devastating. Now, I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve never had my ideas stolen. But I know it happens, and I thought that today I would write about some things writers should be aware of about idea stealing.
I actually have quite a lot to say on the subject, so I’m splitting this discussion into two parts for length reasons. This week I’ll be talking about what idea stealing actually is, and how to tell whether you’re inspired by an idea, or whether you’re just stealing it. And then next time I’ll be addressing the other side of the issue, where it’s your idea that has been stolen. So, without further ado, here we go.
You Should Never EVER Steal Someone Else’s Ideas
I’d like to say this straight up front, and I cannot stress just HOW important this is. It is never ok to steal someone else’s ideas and hard work. It’s perfectly fine to be inspired by someone else’s book. It’s ok to borrow elements here and there from someone’s work, as long as you’re not just ripping it word for word from their writing. But outright stealing someone else’s ideas is something no writer should ever do. Apart from the fact that it’s an incredibly lazy way of getting an idea, it can be really hurtful to other writers.
Writing is a very solitary pursuit. We spend a lot of time on our own coming up with characters and worlds, and pouring words out on the page. So it’s very important for us as writers to be able sharing our books and ideas with other writers so we can have support and companionship on the journey. It can be hard enough for writers to gather enough courage to share their writing as it is. Stealing someone else’s ideas breaks our fragile trust, and makes it that much harder for writers to share their work next time, out of fear of someone stealing their ideas.
The bottom line is, if you wouldn’t like it to happen to you, don’t do it to someone else, no matter how good their idea is.
What Exactly Is Idea Stealing?
Idea stealing is when you see what someone else is writing, then take their ideas and use them as your own. It's usually only a big problem when it's obvious where the ideas have come from, or when an entire plot has been stolen. There’s nothing new in writing, so it’s not unusual for two writers to write a book with a very similar concept. It’s the way the idea is handled that makes the story unique. But starting from the same idea and stealing a whole plot are two different things.
“Hey, I love what you’re doing with your story about people genetically modifying dinosaurs and creating dragons. In fact I like it so much I’m going to have a go at writing it myself. But the main character’s name is going to be Joe, not Chuck. It’s going to be completely different.”
“Hey, I love what you’re doing with your story with people genetically modifying dinosaurs and creating dragon. I’d love to do something similar, only it won’t be dinosaurs but horses, and actually it’s going to be set way in the future, so they’re more like robot ponies and let’s add this handful of other things while we’re at it.”
It’s ok to be inspired by someone else’s idea, as long as you don’t just take it verbatim. If you’re just copying someone’s idea directly, then you’re stealing, especially if you don’t ask for permission. If you like an idea and are inspired by it, go for it, but you have to make it your own Just changing a couple of details doesn’t count if the core of the story is exactly the same.
How Do You Make Sure You’re Not Stealing Someone’s Ideas?
If you’re worried about whether you’re stealing someone’s idea, there are a few ways to tell whether you’re borrowing inspiration, or stealing from them.
Are they offering this idea as inspiration? Some writers like to share writing prompts on their blog, Pinterest, or social media. These are designed for you to use in your own writing. If you’re taking an idea from one of these, you’re fine.
Is part of their own book? If the writer is sharing some of their own work and you get inspired by one of the ideas, you can still use, providing you’re not writing the exact same thing they are. Being inspired and using a similar idea worked into the rest of your book is not stealing.
How similar is what you’re writing to what they shared? How much of your idea has come from someone else’s book? How much have you changed it to make it your own? If you’ve been inspired to write a book along similar lines, but have created a different story and made the idea your own, you’re ok. If your book is recognisably taken from someone else’s work, you’re probably stealing.
Have you taken a large chunk of someone’s plot? Borrowing elements of a story is completely different to stealing a whole plot. Writers borrow ideas from other books all the time. We see a bit of a story we like and we borrow a bit from here and a bit from there, mix it all up and make it our own. Taking a whole plot is a different matter, and that’s what really hurts, because creating a plot takes so much time and energy and love.
Have you borrowed a concept, or a plot? Writing the same base concept and writing the same plot are two different things. Harry Potter and Star Wars have the same base concept: An orphan finds out they have powers and goes off to fight a huge evil. That’s fine. Writing a story about a boy on a distant planet who meets an old man who gives him a sword made of light and guides him on an epic quest across the galaxy to defeat a great evil is just taking someone else’s plot. And that’s not ok.
If you’re worried, check with the writer to see if they’re ok with it. If you’re worried that you may have stolen another writer’s idea, talk to them about it. Explain what idea you liked, what you’ve done with it, or plan to do with it to make it different, and see whether they mind. Most writers are really nice people, and if you show that you’re inspired and working to make the idea different and unique, they usually won’t mind. But it never hurts to check if you’re concerned.
Ultimately, if you take an idea and work on it and make it your own, then you should be safe. Stealing ideas is a lazy way of getting a plot without working for it. Having your ideas stolen can be a pretty upsetting experience though. And in part 2 I’m going to be talking about what you should do if your ideas are stolen.
Do you agree with what I’ve said? What issues would you like me to cover in part 2? Have you ever had your ideas stolen? How do you make sure that you’re not just stealing someone else’s ideas? Looking forward to part 2?