What Have You Stolen?

Admit it: you have filched from Fitzgerald.  You have stolen from Styron.  You have pinched from Pynchon.  You have lifted from Lonergan.  You have committed larceny against Boyle, T.C.  Then there was that time you purloined from Heinlein.  You thought no one noticed when you cribbed from Carver, but they totally did.

Why not confess your crime here?  Let others know what you stole from a specific work.  (If the work is online, you can include a link so others can enjoy your ill-gotten gains.)

9 thoughts on “What Have You Stolen?

  1. I’m a conceptual poet who focuses on uncreative writing.

    I’m currently retyping Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man online at http://gettinginsidejamesjoyceshead.blogspot.ca

    I’m also rewriting it online with constraints. A small sample is in this post: http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2013/04/14/re-typing-i-am-rewriting-joyces-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man/

    I’ve also read Kafka’s Metamorphosis backwards and it’s downloadable on soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ravensee/sets/metamorphosis

      • I’ve used Alice Munro’s story Gravel as a model for writing about a traumatic event- her character avoids, misdirecting, goes away from the scene and comes back, fragments. The story is told by a retrospective narrator, a woman whose actions, as a young child, might have led to her sister’s death. It’s just brilliant. The language and pacing. So good.

  2. I’m *trying* to “steal” but having a hard time doing so. Part of it is a certain literary puritanism, so to speak (see, I even had to put “steal” in quotes there), and part of it is that I’m attempting to steal from some stylistically disparate authors.

    But is it really stealing if I acknowledge them in the book or on my website? Heh. My debut novel will be dedicated to a dead writer.

    Maybe I just gotta think of this as open-source storytelling! :)

    • As I’m sure you know, “good writers borrow, great writers steal” is some of the oldest writing advice around. It definitely doesn’t mean that you should plagiarize; we’re both writers and we put a lot of work into our pieces and we’d be LIVID if someone copied pages from us or stole in a bad way.

      In the course of the 200 posts on my site, I think it’s clear that I’m talking about “stealing” as synonymous with “learning.” I love the novelist Tom Perrotta; I’m not going to steal his character names or his sentences or steal one of his plots beat by beat. ALL writers, however, should steal the way he ends his chapters. They should steal the depth he puts into his characters. They might want to steal the way he looks at suburbia through a critical lens.

      I went to your site and you must be excited for your novel to come out. I have no doubt that you are an ethical writer, but I’m betting that you’re stealing/borrowing/learning from Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler and maybe Ian Fleming. You’re NOT stealing characters or paragraphs or exact situations, but you might be stealing the idea of packing your book with very short chapters to keep the pace humming. Or maybe you know a ton about Chinese and American ships and planes and you’ll gracefully slip that information into your book in the way Tom Clancy does.

      So we’re all thieves in some way. Shakespeare did not plagiarize when he stole his plots from history books. Gregory Maguire didn’t steal when he set Wicked in the same world as Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. (It was public domain and Baum was long dead. Writing a Harry Potter novel NOW would be quite different.)

      Whether or not you should credit your sources depends on what you mean. If you put song lyrics into your book, you need to secure permission and you would indeed credit the writer of the lyric in the beginning of the book. If your main character is a spy, you don’t need to credit any other writer who has written about a spy.

  3. Oh, yes, I totally get what you mean. I just can’t stand the word, though, “steal” — a lot of my problem is just egotism I’m sure, an insistence on achieving some impossibly pure sort of wondrous originality. “Talent borrows, genius steals” is Oscar Wilde’s version of the old adage you cited, but I could at least take comfort in him at least half-joking about it.

    I could even stand “imitate” and “derivative” — but to steal or even borrow: ouch!

    In any case, I plan on a long webpage of acknowledgements, to which I’ll refer readers of my books. Thanks for the well-wishes!

  4. I’m paying close attention to the tone of George Saunders’ stories in Tenth of December.

    The voices of his narrators seem to be very “hipster,” short, casual, highly informal. In The Semplica Girl Diaries, the narrator (the father) almost seems to be an “air head” for lack of a better word. (But I recognize this is done on purpose.)

    But these nonchalant are in direct juxtaposition to the serious, and heartbreaking subject matters tackled in these stories.

    So, those opposites of tone vs. subject matter seem to add a layer of depth and nuance to his stories that I haven’t seen.

    Also, Saunders’ reminds me that it’s okay to allow your characters to be compassionate. When Saunders allows his characters to show compassion there’s an energy that leaps off the page and you can feel a warmth of emotion wash over you, the reader. It’s an amazing feeling. So, I’ll be stealing that little technique, along with others, i.e., economy of language and writing in scene.

  5. As I am EXTREMELY fond of adaptations, in film, literature and television alike, I am a professional thief, as it were. It is rare that any concept I come up with is wholly from my own mind. I am often inspired by the things around me, that is, the things that people have already succeeded in making a buck off of. The best concepts are proven concepts, in theory, so I like to economize on that idea. My most recent project to hit the world: “Poster Girl”, is a historically questionable tale ripped right from the famous “We Can Do It” campaign of 1943. I asked no permissions, I had no shame. I stole. And that is the beauty of public domain people….PUBLIC domain!! Use it, abuse it, etc. etc. Paying rights for things is overrated anyway.

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