META: Wish Fulfillment, WCs, and Mary Sues

martinphipps2 at martinphipps2 at
Tue Mar 14 19:16:21 PST 2006

Tom Russell wrote:

> Is someone who is good at improving (like Shakespeare) or synthesizing
> dispariate and often-times inferior source materials (like Tarantino)
> less of an artist than those who created those original materials?  I
> mean, by all accounts, ANTZ is a knock-off of A BUG'S LIFE.  But ANTZ
> is better!
> Is it plagarism to take a high concept (like Defending Your Life, or
> Clark Kent's College Days) and extrapolate from it? I think I'd be a
> bit miffed if someone created a character with Gregory Dingham's powers
> and wrote a story about said character's moral decline.  At the same
> time, what if they did it better?

Awfully subjective, really.  I don't think Antz was better than A Bug's
Life.  I mean, if you forget for a moment that the ants in A Bug's Life
are all colored wrong (blue ants???) then A Bug's Life is better.
Similarly, I liked Phil Collin's Sussudio better than Prince's 1999 so
I'm not going to get upset when Phil admits in an interview that he
literally stole the hook from the latter song.  The fact that he could
admit it might have saved him some trouble.  I mean, if an author goes
on to write a novel based on Speak and then somebody asks him where he
got the idea and he says "Oh there was a similar story on the internet.
 Some guy named Tom Russell wrote it." then you might still be pissed
but at least you eventually got credit.

I suppose the best situation is when an author gives permission for you
to use his idea. Then the next best situation is when the character or
concept is old enough to be considered public domain but not yet
cliche.  Then there's the possibility that you only borrow a snipet so
that it could be considered a homage or an unattributed quotation.  Of
course, in the case of writing stories to be posted on the internet,
the question of "fair use" comes up.  Legally, a writer might be able
to appeal to freedom of speech if by using somebody else's character or
concept you are actually making a comment about the character, say in
the form of parody or satire (which is why Mad Magazine can't be sued
for its TV or movie satires).  There are a lot of individual situations
to be considered.


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