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Me and My Great Ideas

10.18.14

deas are funny things. Especially comic ideas. But that’s not the kind of funny I meant.¬†All¬†ideas are pretty interesting. The way they happen, I mean.

First there’s nothing, then in the space where there used to be nothing, there now sits an idea. It could be an abstract thought that just occurred to me, or an idea for a new story.

What makes that idea appear? It could be a number of different things. Our senses contribute a lot. Something we see, hear, read, whatever, reminds us of something else, and a connection is made. Maybe something wonderful or traumatic that happens to us makes enough of an impression that we think, “I need to write about that!” And now that we have the experience, we can write about it with authority.

Or maybe something that we experience makes us think of something completely different, or think of something in a different way. As an example, I was watching an episode of Castle a while back. In a scene after a murder, the characters were exchanging information about the victim. A very serious and sober scene, but something clicked in my head about a really awesome way this scene could be made funny.

Okay, obviously not what was called for in the show, but it found its way into my latest novel, Poked, still in progress. (You’ll just have to wait to see how that turned out.)

Speaking of ideas in writing (or other forms of artistic expression), copyright law has a limited application. According to Wikipedia:

In some cases, authors can be granted limited legal monopolies on the manner in which certain works are expressed. This is known colloquially as copyright, although the term intellectual property is used mistakenly in place of copyright. Copyright law regulating the aforementioned monopolies generally does not cover the actual ideas. The law does not bestow the legal status of property upon ideas per se. Instead, laws purport to regulate events related to the usage, copying, production, sale and other forms of exploitation of the fundamental expression of a work, that may or may not carry ideas.

This may bewhy, for example, similar movies may be released at approximately the same time. Two examples come to mind: In September of 2006, The Illusionist was released, a movie about a Victorian-era European magician, and the jealousy and obsession of a monarch over how his trick is done. It was followed the very next month by The Prestige, a story about rival magicians in Victorian-era Europe, and one’s jealousy and obsession over how the other’s trick is done. Very similar ideas, but quite different applications.

In an even more dramatic example, in May of 1998, Deep Impact was released, a movie about a comet on a collision course with earth, and the launch of a space mission in an attempt to destroy it by planting nuclear devices inside the comet. Relatively few people remember Deep Impact, though, because it was eclipsed by Armageddon which was released in July, a movie about an asteroid on a collision course with earth, and the launch of a space mission in an attempt to destroy it by planting nuclear devices inside the asteroid.

In this example, the ideas for both movies are identical. If you read the description alone, without the title, you wouldn’t be able to determine which movie was being referenced. The idea is not covered by copyright law. The execution of it, though, in the form of a screenplay, and the movie itself, is protected.

One could easily imagine ideas being thrown around in a Hollywood studio in a pitch for a movie. If it doesn’t pan out, the pitch man could have moved on to a different studio, pitching the same idea. The idea, though, since it’s not protected by copyright, could take root in two different minds, and could end up being implemented by two different studios without any danger of infringement.

For this reason, I tend to be somewhat secretive about my ideas until I’m ready to release them. I don’t claim to be completely unique and original since, like every writer, I’m influenced to some extent by other writers and other ideas. But I like to think that my stories do display some originality of application and expression.

Incidentally, the idea for Profile actually came from the jealous suspicions of my wife at the time. I spent a fair amount of time on Facebook, and my ex who was not on Facebook saw our declining relationship and developed the idea that perhaps I was involved with somebody else, if not in person, then an emotional relationship with someone online.

She warned me that people online might not be who I think they are. Her suspicions were entirely unfounded, but I was left with the idea of a person misrepresenting himself on Facebook, suffering some consequences as a result of his actions, but eventually finding love.

And Profile was born. That idea developed into a complete story fairly easily, pouring out in a flood faster than anything I had written before.

Due to be released next month, Private Messages was a very different story, literally. The idea presented itself while I was still working on Profile. But it took longer to develop and I came up against a number of blocks while working on it. And since it’s not out yet, I’m still being somewhat protective of the idea and storyline.

The current book I’m working on, Poked, began with a simple concept. But the idea seemed almost like the premise of a science fiction story, which I didn’t want it to be. So it’s taken a lot more research and finesse to make (and keep) it plausible in the real world, and the number of blocks I’ve come up against has already exceeded those in Private Messages, and I’m less than half done with it.

But it’s a good idea, so I’m confident it will work out.