Will my ideas be stolen?

Inexperienced writers are often worried about their ideas being stolen. May I suggest that you research this concern, on Google or your favourite search engine, to discover how unfounded are such fears. I have often set an exercise for a writing group, where I present the main characters, the plot outline and the theme. And in every case, the stories produced are widely, and wildly, different from each other.

To take this further, try working in partnership with another writer to develop a co-authored story, and you will experience how very difficult it is for another writer to adopt your ideas, and vice versa.

However, it is also wise to keep your ideas to yourself until you are clear about the shape and direction of the story. This is because too much input from others, too many well-meant suggestions, will derail your story, and will make it into another story entirely, one which you no longer recognise or ‘own’.

Many years ago, George Polti write a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. His thesis was that there are only thirty-six basic plot outlines, and every story ever told will conform to one of these. Although the language of his book is archaic, it is a fascinating theory, and you may enjoy exploring his ideas. Many later writers have taken up the notion, and have developed his original idea, or have drawn their own conclusions about the number of basic plots available. Explore this further on the web, and make your own conclusions.

Inevitably, you will recognise that your own ideas will be ‘stolen’, and in fact, you probably ‘stole’ them yourself. But just as every human individual is unique, so every story has its own unique quality. There may be twenty popular books telling of a brave young lad’s quest to save the kingdom by facing perils, but each book will centre on a unique character, who will have his own code of ethics, and his own way of dealing with the dangers, of relating to his fellows and to his environment. Even before we decide on a time and place for this story, you can see how much variation is possible. Similarly, how many variations on a detective story are there in the book stores and libraries of the world? Millions, but they mostly follow a similar pattern of a quirky individual detective, working alone or in awkward partnership, who faces a complex and seemingly unsolvable challenge. And through ingenuity, daring and cunning, he or she solves the case. Again.

So relax, your plot will be stolen. You will steal plots. Humans are storytellers, and humans love to listen to stories. Make your stories fascinating and irresistible by avoiding clichéd characters, by using your skills of observation to reflect familiar patterns of behaviour, and by daring to step out onto new paths. Many new writers produce derivative works, stories which are closely based on a successful book in the marketplace. Even unconsciously, a new writer will be inclined to follow a recognised pattern of success. But you have a unique writing voice; nobody else in the entire universe can tell your story, or can tell a story in your voice.  Of course, you need to learn the techniques of a successful writer, and you need to practise and develop your talents. But rest assured, your stories are yours alone. Plots are universal, writing styles come and go in fashion, but your writing voice is yours alone. Cherish this gift, exercise and develop your writing muscle to ensure your voice is loud and clear. Become an irresistible Pied Piper of stories, drawing your rapt readership in your wake. Go for it!