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I’m Posting This Sh1t Online,
Now Whaddaya Gonna Do?

Part II
Stealing Fiction

“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook,
you’d have invented Facebook.”

The Social Network

On the day I started writing this post on the commonness of ideas, I stumbled upon this article… on the commonness of ideas.  It just goes to proves the point.  That is, while ideas are often repeated, they are not often stolen.

Ideas are not unique.  Ideas are cheap.  They are common, that’s not what makes a book.  But I’ll get back to that.

This guy gives an example of what most writers fear.  An idea is pitched in a crowded room and someone decides to claim it.  The author of the post has advised people since then to fear publicly revealing their ideas, including posting them.  But is this a rational fear?

The idea that was supposedly stolen was a book called The Dude Who Knew Too Much.  Ever heard of it?  I haven’t.  I even googled it.  Nothing.  Was it ever published, maybe under a different title?  I doubt it.  I mean, it kinda sounds like Spy Kids or some other kids-getting-in-over-their-heads story.  But I wouldn’t say that’s stolen.  It’s an idea that anyone could have or take and make into their own.

So I don’t think that guy’s example provides a particularly strong argument.  But I’ve got some arguments of my own.

1. People steal less than you’d think.

Why?  No idea.  Maybe most ideas aren’t that good.  Maybe people that steal ideas realize that writing and selling a novel is a lot more work than nabbing someone’s idea.  Maybe people are good.  (Haha.)  I don’t know.  It doesn’t really matter.  Many, many people put their work online.  Fact is, most of it doesn’t get stolen.  Whatever the reason, it just doesn’t.

But if it is?  I mean, if it’s really stolen, as in someone publishes something that’s so close to yours that you’ll never be able to publish it? A blog is a public record.  It’s not a whisper at a convention.  It’s not a locked trunk in the back of a closet where you keep the rejected manuscripts.  If your work really is stolen, there will be no question as to who had it first.  None at all.  Posting your fiction may expose you to thieves, but it also protects you from them.

But if someone steals it, if someone really steals your idea, it doesn’t matter because…

2. Ideas don’t matter.  Execution matters

And no, I didn’t steal this from the guy in the first link.  We just had the same idea because ideas are not unique.  Writing is not having an idea. Lots of people have ideas for stories.  Writing is writing the story.  A story doesn’t exist until it’s told, and an idea is not a story.

Writing is the marriage of a story and it’s author. A good story in the hands of a terrible author will go nowhere and a bad story in the hands of a talented author could become a thing of beauty.

You want to read Lord of the Rings  by Stephenie Meyer?

Or Animal Farm by Danielle Steel?

And what of “high-concepts”?  Simple.  A high concept, like any other concept will fall flat in the hands of an untalented author.  And vice versa.  Moreover, high concepts are black swans, the massive phenomena that changes the field and dwarfs all other achievements.  There’s a lot to say about this theory, and it’s really a topic for another day.  For writers I recommend reading this “this application of black swan theory to writing”(pdf).But the basic idea is that black swans cannot be predicted or planned because they are random.  They are not due to one idea, or even to a talented execution of the idea, but also to circumstance.  And circumstance is far more powerful than you realize.

What does this mean for us?  A high concept means nothing.  It is only one part of the equation.

Because a book is not Idea.

A book is Idea + Talent + Circumstance

And the idea is the smallest, the lightest, the easiest of the three parts.  If you have trouble with ideas, you may want to consider another line of work.  It’s only non-writers that ask “Where do you get your ideas?”  So don’t worry about someone stealing your work.  They probably won’t.  And if they do, it’s not going to do squat for them, it’s only one third of the equation.  Maybe it wouldn’t have done squat for you either.  So don’t worry. Just write.

That’s my take on it.   I know, however, that it is something that many many writers worry about.  It’s hard not to when your ideas are so close to you, when you feel so passionately about them.

How do you guys feel? Do you worry about people stealing your stuff online?  Do you post it anyway?  Do you think ideas are really unique?

8 Responses to “Stealing Fiction”

  1. Mel

    That’s a great point. It shows I was here first. And you know what if you choose a creative commons license with attribution, so long as the thief is linking back to you, they’re really in a sense, not stealing, but advertising for you.

    You’re dead on with the ideas don’t matter, execution does.

  2. aeliusblythe

    Yeah, a lot of “stealing,” (including “piracy”) is really just free advertising. Or it’s someone doing something that’s really completely different because of the execution. So sharing in many ways increases creativity and helps art to spread.

    & Creative commons is great because it puts the rights, and decisions about the rights, completely in the hands of the authors.

  3. met

    I love it when I find people who are on the same page. Everything we do has been done before. It’s all about execution. As you say, ideas are cheap. I would go as far to say that good writers are a dime a dozen. It’s the storytelling that doesn’t come easy.

    Here’s a post about my personal process when I decided to license my serial novel “Guts and Sass: An Anti-Epic” under a “share alike” rather than “no derivative” Creative Commons license.

    Thanks for writing this series. I think it’s a great resource.

    • aeliusblythe

      I went and read your post (I actually had trouble commenting not anonymously, or I would have put this over there.) We’re definitely on the same page. I don’t license my stuff at all (meaning anyone can take it, not no one can take it), but I do like the Creative Commons options because they put the control into the hands of the authors/artists.

      I remember being so disappointed to read that one of my favorite authors, Robin Hobb doesn’t “allow” fan fiction (yeah, and that totally works.) I don’t write fan fiction for her stuff, but it was just the idea that someone I respected would hold her work in such a tight fist instead of sharing it. Say I’m over reacting, but I haven’t bought one of her books since.

      • met

        Thanks for pointing that out about the comments! I think it got reset to default when I upgraded Drupal (and now I’m a little befuddled about how to fix it).

        It is really sad to see authors (and any other kind of storyteller) hold their work in a tight fist. I think it’s the result of a fear-culture, and a culture that says “give and take” not “give and give.” There’s this idea that if you give, you lose, so you have to refuse to give to protect your interests (such as earning money to buy food).

        • Alex

          Is it too late for a kiss?Life is so sweet.I wrote 3 times about this. Each time it was too private to share. To dioslsce details of other lives who have intertwined with mine so beautifully would be, might be a way of interrupting the moment. Short-cutting. Short-changing, that’s the word I was looking for.There is an area of my life where in the past I have felt short-changed because the longing was not quenched fully. But the longing was experienced fully, and if that was the sweetness, the nectar, the fruit that was shared with me so freely, well then I received it fully. I drank of longing and swam in its warm waters. I immersed myself in the song and swayed and danced and melted and rose again. All so I could experience the sweetness of this new moment. The one without longing because that experience passed, as all experiences do. A kiss today that would not have happened so sweetly, so spontaneously and fulfilling, if the longing before had been short-cutted, short-changed, interrupted. Life is so sweet.

    • Kidmadham

      Chocolate kisses. Lovely, deadcent smooth chocolate kisses. I am a slave to you. You sit in my closet, hiding. No one knows you’re there. Except me. You were Leftover from a meeting, and I couldn’t just leave you behind. I meant to take you to work with me. But I couldn’t give you up.You’re sitting in a tupperware container, in your plain Jane Hersheyness, so much better than Godiva could ever pretend to be. Dressed in just a silver foil wrapper, you play coy. There are times when I’m impatient to unwrap you, and I want you undressed and ready. Your brother Hershey Bar doesn’t play hard to get. He’s dangerous, because I can just strip him naked in a flash. But before I know it, he’s gone, and I’m left standing there, wanting more, silently cursing him under my breath, wondering why I let myself be seduced by him. I adore you in your little silver wrapper, because you soothe me in small doses. Ones that I can handle and have no regrets over later. It would be better, perhaps, if you were sitting in the candy bowl, so that anyone could have you. But you are my little secret for now. I don’t want you to be found by anyone else. You’ll be gone too fast as it is.

  4. met

    Aha! I have fixed the comment form, so you can crosspost if you like (or I can do it for you).


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