Here’s a question for you: Have you ever read a story or watched a movie or show on television and thought to yourself, “I can write a better story than that”?
For me, it happens more often with television and movies than it does with short stories or novels. Too many shortcuts and bad narrative decisions. I know that writers are often having to deal with time restraints and directorial decision – and maybe studio or production house input – but I still get frustrated when an otherwise good story is wasted by sloppy writing.
And no, I’m not in any way claiming that I would do better. I know I’m guilty of poor writing. All of us are capable of overusing cliches or stereotypes. It happens.
But with professional writing I expect more. These folks are getting paid good money. Hell, there are sometimes teams of writers working on scripts, yet the final product turns out to be crap. How does that happen?
There are been many occasions when I’ve watched a show or a movie and afterwards thought about the story, wondering about the missed opportunities and what I would have done differently. Which begs the question: Is it okay to take that idea and make it your own?
Personally, I think it’s okay. As I’ve said before – both on this blog and in my podcast – every story that can be told has been told. As writers, we are tasked with finding new ways to tell them. So I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to watch a movie and want to retell the story in your own way. Of course, the caveat is copyright. You can’t use the same character names or exact settings and narrative. Calling your hero “Spider Guy” is probably going to get you a nice phone call from Marvel’s attorneys. And no, you probably can’t write a space opera entitled, “Star Battles”, set in a galaxy a long, long way off. You need to make these stories your own and not a derivative of the originals.
I think that when it comes to fiction, any type of fiction, ideas are there for the taking. You can see examples of this in the movie industry. For example, back in the early 1990s there were two movies about Wyatt Earp that came out within months of each other. One was titled Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner, the other was Tombstone with Kurt Russell. There was also Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug’s Life. The list goes on and on.
The point here is that it’s okay to take an existing story and make it your own. In fact, I think it’s a good way to challenge yourself not only as a writer, but in any area of art. You see a painting in a gallery or a sculpture in a museum and you note the flaws, the little things that only you notice. You think to yourself, that’s nice but I think it would be better if…
And then you take that idea, that theme, that plot, and you turn it into something new and amazing. Why not? If you feel that you can do it better, prove it. Even if no one ever sees what you’ve done, you’ll know that you did it yourself and you did it better.
Give it a shot. You may impress yourself.