I’m Not a Plagiarist, I’m Just Paying Homage To One

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ad a near miss recently. The second in the past year. I nearly stole someone else’s writing.

Six months ago, while writing Script #2, I wanted to introduce a character in a way that would immediately showcase their personality. I devised a scene and put it in my outline. Really liked it. Worked well for the character and the story. When it came time to write it however, something felt off.

It felt familiar. Probably because it’s in my outline, I told myself at first. But no. That wasn’t it. Had I seen this scene before? I became increasingly convinced that I had. Went so far as to email a bunch of friends, detailing the scene and asking them if it sounded familiar. No one could place it.

Then it hit me. I rushed to a stack of old DVDs. Pulled out an action pic from a few years back and popped it in. Sure enough. My outline was a play by play of how the protagonist is introduced.

Yikes.

I scrubbed everything. Got my character the hell out of there. It was a little disturbing to think my subconscious nearly betrayed me to such a degree. I was just glad I caught it.

I watch television and film like most people listen to music. For me, this stuff is always on. Background noise when I’m working. It helps occupy the parts of my brain that try to do their own thing while I’m trying to focus. I’ve “watched” many films and television shows dozens of times.

Long time friends often share a shorthand. For my buddies and I much of this shorthand is pulled from pop culture; The Simpson, Seinfeld, Beavis & Butthead, movies that we wore the tape out of growing up. So much so that once in a while we’ll wonder whether something we just said was “an original” or something we picked up from an episode of Night Court.

And as far as media and the wealth of entertainment available today is concerned, things are only getting worse.

I’m not the first writer to accidently stumble into the realm of hackery. Surely it happens more often that probably anybody cares to admit. It’s happened and gone unchecked enough that the film industry has long protected itself with the term homage.

But it’s not exactly what I’m striving for. If I’m going to pay homage to something, I’d prefer to be aware that I’m doing it.

The most recent near miss was this week. I was finishing my first draft of Script #4. On a first draft, I’m not super fussy about dialogue. I’m just trying to capture motivation and tone. So I dropped a villain’s line in that I thought was pretty sinister. If not a little over the top. I earmarked it as something to top in the next pass.

Falling asleep to Batman Begins that night (I also use films and TV as a sleep aid) there it was. Ten minutes in. My villain’s line. Verbatim.

Laptop on. Delete text. Replace with something far less likely to destroy my career before it even gets started.

Double yikes.

I’ve gotta stop watching movies.

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Filed under Misadventures, The Journey

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