Often when I’m reading a story I think I’ve picked where it is going, or what the twist is going to be, only to find that it doesn’t eventuate. Sometimes when that happens my idea is better than what does happen.
An example for me was when I was reading Twilight. I loved the way Stephenie Meyer was foreshadowing for the mother to have some vampire-related connection which explained Bella’s irresistible attraction. The mother was carefully kept out of the picture, only communicating by phone, and she had lived in the area where the novel is set when she was younger. Perfect set-up.
I couldn’t wait for the big reveal and what it would mean for Bella, but apparently it never happened. I say apparently as I didn’t get past the second book, so I had to ask a friend who had read them all. I was just so disappointed that such a perfectly set-up twist was squandered.
So what is the etiquette on writing a story based on an idea you got from someone else’s story? The truth is it happens all the time, and people write the stories without any issue. In fact most of the time you could read both stories and have no idea that one inspired the other.
Where it can be problematic is when you get inspired by a submission from someone in your writers group, or from ‘the slush pile’ if you are reader for a publisher. If you are in either of these situations I think you have to let the idea go. In my writers group I’ll share my twist with the author, and if they like it they can have it, if not I wave goodbye as it disappears back out into the collective unconscious to be picked up by someone else.
So will I write the vampire story with the mother twist? Of course, in fact I already have. I just need to find a short story publisher without ‘PLEASE NO MORE VAMPIRE STORIES’ on its submission page and then I’ll send it off. Looks like quite a few people have been inspired by the Twilight saga!