Ideas 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.
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 is probably why, 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, are 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 in roughly the same time, 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.
The story I’m currently working on, Soul Breather, is a historical novel which takes place leading up to and beyond the Sand Creek Massacre. It started out as a story about a fictional character, Emerson Granger, but after it sat untouched for a while and I came back to it, other ideas began playing upon it. Thus, I decided to add two other main characters. These characters, though, were real people: John Chivington, the notorious commander of the massacre, and Silas Soule, the Captain of one of the two companies that refused to follow Chivington’s orders.
These being real characters, and me being me, the story is taking a while to flesh itself out. I tend to spend a lot of time being concerned – alright, obsessing – about accuracy, so I’ve had to engage in hours and hours of research. I’m roughly two thirds to three quarters of the way through it now.
But it’s a good idea, so I’m confident it will work out.