It’s been said by various fine minds, T.S. Eliot, Steve Jobs and Alfred Tennyson included, that: ‘Good Artists copy; great artists steal.’
I don’t mean plagiarism, where long sections of a previously published work are lifted and used by an inferior writer; there have been many examples of that through the years.
Nor do I mean the alarming theft of whole ebooks which are hijacked, given a new title and published online under a pen name by ratbags wanting to profit from an author’s hard work.
No, I’m referring to when we read a phrase or see a literary technique that we can ‘borrow’ and turn to our purpose. To a large extent, we writers are magpies picking up anecdotes, interesting snippets of language and overheard conversations to decorate our own nests.
We’re always ‘on’, especially with a WIP, alert to possibilities. Just recently, I came across a couple of choice descriptions in a novel and a poem. One was in Tim Gautreaux’s fine novel The Missing where he described some dilapidated store fronts ‘faced with cupped pine boards bleeding nail rust’. I loved the idea of old dried-out timber bleeding nail rust, so purloined it to add to a scene where my protagonist detective visits a seemingly abandoned ramshackle farm, only to find the farmer dead inside, sitting mummified at his kitchen table.
A charming poem An Hour by Polish bard Czeslaw Milosz spoke of the ‘zealous hum of bees’. Yoink went I, adding it to my opening chapter where a mysterious woman is lying among the heather on a hot summer day, before going to a rendezvous with a man who will murder her.
That’s my confession!
Have any of you stolen anything juicy recently?
(Fess up—it’s good for the soul)