Stealing From Writers? I’m In Favor Of It

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with a paperback book of short stories.

Unlike the other patients, I wasn’t reading (I’d read it cover to cover). I was counting the number of words on an average line (11), then the average lines on a page (36).

Guy cleared his throat. “Dude? Can I ask what you’re doing, man?”

“Sure. Counting words.”

He was quiet for a while. “Can I ask why?”

The answer was: I enjoyed the book a lot. And although it isn’t my usual genre, I’d like to try my hand at it. Which means I need a template: In order to establish my pacing, and to figure out when I introduce  characters and primary settings.

In short: I was planning to steal from the book.

These writers had done a terrific job and if I wanted to try their genre, I needed to know what a terrific job looked like. So I could emulate it.

Is that plagiarism? Big shrug from me. Call it what you want. It’s something I tell writing students all the time: If you find a writer, or a genre, that you really love, buy a cheap copy of the right book, break it apart, write in the margins, use highlighters and scribbles on the cover. Do whatever you have to do, to understand why the book appealed to you. Then try to replicate it.

Stealing, schmealing. You gotta start somewhere.

About danahaynes

Dana Haynes is the author of ICE COLD KILL (2013), BREAKING POINT (2011) and CRASHERS (2010) from Minotaur and St. Martin's Press.

Posted on February 27, 2012, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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