Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Novel Ideas: Are They Really Your Own?

Think about it. A novel idea is born inside a writer's mind. Plot, characters, dialogue, and conflict formulate around the idea. Applying pen to paper, the artist allows the story to be told. But, is it (the idea) really his own?

 Plato was one of the earliest philosophers to provide a detailed discussion of ideas. He considered the concept of idea in the realm of metaphysics and its implications for epistemology. He asserted that there is a realm of Forms or Ideas, which exist independently of anyone who may have thought of these ideas. Material things are then imperfect and transient reflections or instantiations of the perfect and unchanging ideas. From this it follows that these Ideas are the principal reality (see also idealism). In contrast to the individual objects of sense experience, which undergo constant change and flux, Plato held that ideas are perfect, eternal, and immutable. Consequently, Plato considered that knowledge of material things is not really knowledge; real knowledge can only be had of unchanging ideas.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Now, take for instance, vampires. I know, the "story" has been done. And done. And done. However, the IDEA of vampires, is it owned by a particular someone? Copyrighted? According to the U. S. Copyright Office, no, an idea cannot be copyrighted. 

What Is Not Protected by Copyright?

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for
federal copyright protection. These include among others:
• works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of
expression (for example, choreographic works that have
not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches
or performances that have not been written or recorded)
• titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols
or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation,
lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
• ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts,
principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a
description, explanation, or illustration
• works consisting entirely of information that is common
property and containing no original authorship (for
example: standard calendars, height and weight charts,
tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from
public documents or other common sources) (Source: U. S. Copyright Office)

I realize this may be common knowledge, but in this era when so very much of us and ours is out there (on the web) for everyone to see, copy, use, borrow...it's definitely something to contemplate.

A frog can only be produced from a tadpole. Simple science. Can anyone create a picture book about a tadpole growing into a frog? Yes. (Although, I'm sure there are plenty of adorable pbs' about this subject) However, an author's job is to make the story their own. Tell the story in their own words. Make the tadpole truly authentic.

A Polliwog's Tail
(pb idea created for this blog post by Candy Fite)

Piper, an unruly polliwog in love with her own glorious tail, denies her froggy fate by refusing to learn how to hop on her newly grown legs. 

It's that easy. A tadpole to frog...done before. A polliwog with an attitude, refusing her fate...too cute.

So, as writers or readers, what are your feelings on this subject?


  1. I'm finding this to be a really big issue. I'm writing a children's fantasy at the moment, well trying, and it's too similar to way too many books, especially The Spiderwick Chronicles.

    I know names and specific aspects of a book are copyrighted such as a Platform 9 and 3/4 that takes you to a red train to go off to school. However, the idea of a Gate 19 and 4/5 to a train to take you to a magical land where trolls roam isn't copyrighted. The idea is too similar to be used successfully though

  2. This is a sticky situation with lots of writers. I guess since I haven't gotten published yet...I'm still up in the air on my feelings about this.

  3. @Kamille, I feel for you and your situation. That is a tough situation! But if you think about it, really think about it, there are only so many subjects to write about. Example: Paranormal; ghosts, vamps, weres, fairies, demons / angels, just to name a few. It's the situation, the varying plots and characters that make the books unique.

    How many of us read Twilight, and then ran off to find every vampire book on the store shelves to satisfy our blood thirst? Okay, maybe not all of us, but I know I hunted vamp books for quite a while after the saga ended for me. If there had only been ONE book allowed to be written about vampires and the star-crossed love theme, I would have been left starving, staring blankly at empty shelves.

    Now, if someone were to write a book about a young woman named Bella in love with a handsome, veggie vampire named Edward, yeah that would be crossing a line.

    I appreciate your honest thoughts, Kamille! Best of luck with your novel. :))

    @Angela It is a sticky situation, I agree. I too am a citizen of the land of unpublished. This just got me thinking lately and I thought I'd get a few other opinions on the subject.

    One of my most beloved authors, who's published a zillion books, gets ideas from others. This author openly speaks about how his / her ideas are created. News stories, other writings, people he / she has met, places he or she has visited, stories heard...but what this author does is makes the idea(s) his / her own. In the end, an incredible story is born.

    Thank you, Angela for your comments!