The last don’t do I want to discuss for now is really simple – don’t steal plots.
Every so often I come across a posted story that elicits a sense of déjà vu as I continue to read. Then it strikes me – this is just (put title of famous novel or movie here) rehashed by the author. This is simple plot theft, and it’s not a good way to start a career as a writer.
First off, there’s a big difference between plot theft and fan fiction. Fan fiction uses established characters and settings with the writer supplying their own ‘vision’ or story. Star Trek novels are really just glorified fan fiction, but some good writers have gotten their start that way. Even a few well established writers have written Star Trek books. Its experience, and it’s a publication, especially in fanzines.
On the other hand plot theft is basically what we see in most movie sequels – the same plot, just a different location. Think “Home Alone” 1 and 2. Or more recently, think Star Wars (the original 1977 movie) and the current “Star Wars, A New Awakening.” Pretty much the same movie with some updating and characters swapped around. In movies you can get away with this, especially since the studio owns the rights to the original. In writing it indicates a lack of originality or imagination in plotting. Once a reader recognizes the plot theft, all suspense vanishes because they can pretty well tell where the story is going.
A few years ago I started reading a sword and sorcery fantasy posted to a story submission site. It started off with two brothers who were out hunting or some such when their village (where they lived with an uncle and aunt) was attacked and destroyed by orcs (arrrgh! If you’ve read my earlier posts you know what I think of people who insist on using Tolkien names). Then they go to their other uncle who is a loner outcast of some secret group of knights. After a time they head for the secret city of the knights where they find out their father was a top knight who was banished from the order for some reason. By the way, one of the boys has great psychic power. It became progressively clearer to me that I was reading a slightly modified Star Wars plot in a sword and sorcery setting. (I’ll spell it out. Aunt and Uncle killed just like Luke’s. Loner, weird uncle – Obiwan. Order of knights – Jedi. Etc., etc., etc.) I lost interest very quickly. As far as I know, the book didn’t go anywhere either.
There’s a classic Twilight Zone titled “The Bard” about a talentless, hack writer (not my description – comes from plot synopsis on IMDb) who has one plot for a tv show. He keeps trying to sell it to an agent by changing the setting. First it’s a detective story, then a western, then a sci-fi. If you are copying someone else’s plot you’re doing the same thing.
So a little advice. When you work out your plot make sure you think about it carefully. How much is yours, and how much is something you’ve read or seen on the screen? If the major part of your plot is from the second category – time to rethink the whole thing.