There’s nothing more agonizing then writing a truly terrific line in your novel, and then, later, realizing you lifted it.
In the first draft of my as-yet-unnamed third thriller, I wanted to convey that a CIA covert operation went very, very poorly. I was looking to take an existing cliché (“the wheels fell off”… “it went south” … ) and turn it on its ear. What I ended up with is, “the operation went to hell in a speedboat.”
Excellent. Clean, fun, turns a cliché on its ear. I loved it.
Then I rewatched the pilot of Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and there’s the character Jordan McDeere saying, “…America is going to hell in a speedboat.”
I couldn’t believe it.
I had subconsciously lifted a line from one of the great dialog writers in all of Hollywood. (Hey, if you’re stealing, why steal from a hack?) Naturally, the line had to be exorcised from my manuscript.
It’s a problem. I store great bits of dialog somewhere in what passes for my brain. When I write a real gem, I have to ask myself: Is that you being a good writer? Or you hacking up Joss Whedon or Quentin Tarantino?