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View Full Version : Hypothetical Ethics Question...HMMMM



Star
06-20-2007, 08:54 PM
Dear Fellow Writers,

Doesn't it GRATE when a "someday" writer enthusiastically tells you their great idea for a story...only, in the back of your head you know darn-tootin' well the story will never be written?

This brings me to the question - is it unethical to take someone's idea (someone who has never written a single fictional word before) and make it your own? I would NEVER do this (although ideas aren't copyrightable) but I'm just babbling about the frustration of hearing a great idea that you know will be stillborn.

Don't get me wrong. I know there are some folks who finally come around and BEGIN THE PROCESS, but there are others who have begun several processes in your presence, only for them to abort mission in midstep.

Just a thought, that's all. I'm no thief!

Plot Device
06-20-2007, 09:00 PM
The world is full of tossers. Many of them are people of internal brilliance who sadly lead lives of external mediocrity.

Should you steal from them?

No.

Why not?

Because unlike him, your internal brilliance is NOT accompanied by external mediocrity. It's accompanied by external success. Your ongoing endowment of internal brilliance is more than enough to carry you through to more and more success. And so there is zero need for you to pilfer from the pockets of paupers (aliteration unintentional).

I'm already bursting with ideas and barely have room in my head for my own stuff, never mind also trying to cram in other people's notions.

Roger J Carlson
06-20-2007, 09:04 PM
Having an idea does not a story make. Two writers can take the same idea and write different stories. There are anthologies like this all the time. Are you certain you would write the same story the "someday" writer would?

Star
06-20-2007, 09:08 PM
Hey Plot and Roger,

Oh no, I think I was unclear...yet again...ARGGH!!!
I would never take anyone's idea, I'm griping about those who insist on bending your ear.

There's only one time that I've been tempted. A teacher, who doesn't claim to be a writer, told me a beautiful, heartwarming true story, PERFECT For Highlights. I asked her if she planned to write about it, and she said, "Hmmm, one day...lalalaa." But please believe, I didn't take the story - although it stays stuck in my head. :(

Robin Bayne
06-20-2007, 09:09 PM
Having an idea does not a story make. To writers can take the same idea and write different stories. There are anthologies like this all the time. Are you certain you would write the same story the someday writer would?


I've been to workshops where a room full of romance writers are given a single idea or premise and we each came up with totally different stories.

I'd say if you can take an idea and make it your own, that's fair game. However, since ideas are so plentiful typically, does it really even matter?

KTC
06-20-2007, 09:12 PM
I only use ideas manufactured within my own cranium.

MidnightMuse
06-20-2007, 09:13 PM
Are you talking about people who tell you a story THEY would write if they had a mind, in order to prove to you that "anyone can write", though you know and they know they won't ?

Or are you talking about people who have great tales to tell, who have no intention of becoming writers?

Either way - no. Granted it IS true that no two people will tell the same tale when it reaches The End. However - and this is simply a personal opinion here - if I didn't come up with it from scratch (yes, nothing's original under the sun - we all get that) then I don't want to write it.

In other words, if it isn't mine, I don't want it.


But that's just little ol' me :)

III
06-20-2007, 09:21 PM
I think it also depends on how much you "steal" from the idea. I listen to NPR and if I hear a particularly interesting situation, I'll occasionally weave it into my story in a different form. I think much of writing is simply gleaning and weaving. I wouldn't condone outright stealing someone's great story idea, but if it sparks a similar idea in your head, I don't think that's a problem.

Claudia Gray
06-20-2007, 09:33 PM
I would agree that generally speaking, no, it's not okay to do this. The only times I would personally consider it all right would be if somebody's very general idea inspired a very specific idea in you, one that was unique enough to count as your own creation. Somebody saying, "I'd write about a May-December affair" could make you think of a very specific love story between a middle-aged person and a younger one, and I wouldn't consider that stealing. But somebody saying, "I'd write about a 24-year-old tango dancer named Eva who moves to Los Angeles from Argentina hoping for stardom and her ill-fated romance with an alcoholic, burnt-out movie director who was a legend 20 years ago" -- that's their idea, and not yours.

janetbellinger
06-20-2007, 09:35 PM
I wouldn't think of doing it unless the person gave me permission to use it. Usually it works the other way and people give me suggestions for what they think would be a great story but I'm not interested because it wasn't my own idea.

Sandy J
06-20-2007, 09:45 PM
I just couldn't take their story idea. Partly because of my own ethics, but also because I'm not sure I could "see" their story the way I can my own. (Does that make sense??) When I write, I see the scenes playing out in my head. I know the nuances of the characters, their physical traits, the tone of their voices. (I sound schizophrenic :tongue.) If I can't see it, I can't write it.

I will, however, "borrow" lines. If a friend says something particularly funny, I might ask if she minded if I used that in one of my books. My sister got me a shirt that reads, "Careful. I'll put you in my novel."

pconsidine
06-20-2007, 09:53 PM
Frankly, I can count on one hand and have fingers left over the number of times that I've heard an idea from someone who's not a writer that was worth stealing anyway.

KTC
06-20-2007, 10:07 PM
They don't come up to you at family reunions and say, "I always wanted to write a story about..." ???

Star
06-20-2007, 10:48 PM
OK, let me clarify with teacher example.

Her story is true and absolutely amazing.
In other words, the story should be told, but I can't ethically be the one to tell it - I guess my thing is, I don't think she'll ever share it with the world, and what a shame. I swear, her tale made me tear up.

But again, I'm just making mindless conversation. I'm now a Super Member so I had to think something up. Hmmm, I'll try another more engaging topic.:D

Jamesaritchie
06-20-2007, 11:07 PM
It's impossible to steal an idea because no one owns an idea. You can't steal what isn't owned.

Soccer Mom
06-20-2007, 11:19 PM
WHy not ask her if YOU can write the story, if she doesn't seem eager to tell her own true story?

Or just smack her around and lock her in a room until she writes it.

Either way is good.

dobiwon
06-20-2007, 11:30 PM
"I'd write about a 24-year-old tango dancer named Eva who moves to Los Angeles from Argentina hoping for stardom and her ill-fated romance with an alcoholic, burnt-out movie director who was a legend 20 years ago"

Does this mean I shouldn't write my story about Ava (not Eva) and the director who was a legend 15 (not 20) years ago? Darn! ;)

Star
06-21-2007, 12:18 AM
Soccor Mom,

Know where I can buy some rope and a gag? I did say, "Oh wow, I'd love to write that story, and she said, 'Nope, it's mine, I'll get to it someday." :rant:

Again, I guess I wasn't clear with MYSELF when I posed this question. See, the story actually happened to her, so though she can't own an idea, she owns the experience.

pconsidine
06-21-2007, 01:37 AM
They don't come up to you at family reunions and say, "I always wanted to write a story about..." ??? We've been legally barred from having family reunions since the Ebola BBQ of 1994.

Plot Device
06-21-2007, 03:23 AM
I know a man in a wheelchair with an amazing life story. Even the accident that put him in that chair is astounding. He also keeps saying "Oh, I'l get around to it." Not likely.

I asked him if I could write it. He said no. And this is his entire life, so legally I can't do it.

Jamesaritchie
06-21-2007, 03:51 AM
Soccor Mom,

Know where I can buy some rope and a gag? I did say, "Oh wow, I'd love to write that story, and she said, 'Nope, it's mine, I'll get to it someday." :rant:

Again, I guess I wasn't clear with MYSELF when I posed this question. See, the story actually happened to her, so though she can't own an idea, she owns the experience.

How unique is her experience? I doubt any of us have written much of anything that hasn't already happened to someone. Using the experience of others is what writing fiction is all about. Without doing this, darned few things would emerge as realistic.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-21-2007, 06:21 AM
Dear Fellow Writers,

Doesn't it GRATE when a "someday" writer enthusiastically tells you their great idea for a story...only, in the back of your head you know darn-tootin' well the story will never be written?


It does grate on me, yes. My reason: the someday writer says they'll write their story when they retire, because they don't have time right now. To me that's a way of saying, "I've got this idea but it's not good enough to make time for".


This brings me to the question - is it unethical to take someone's idea (someone who has never written a single fictional word before) and make it your own? I would NEVER do this (although ideas aren't copyrightable) but I'm just babbling about the frustration of hearing a great idea that you know will be stillborn.
There are times I wish I could do that, yes. But I don't, because I did one time when I was a teenager. I lost a good friend because of it. For that reason, I don't take other people's ideas anymore. The taking of another person's idea tempts me once in a great while, but remembering back to the friend who later hated my guts for my stealing his idea, I can quite readily put the temptation to rest.


Don't get me wrong. I know there are some folks who finally come around and BEGIN THE PROCESS, but there are others who have begun several processes in your presence, only for them to abort mission in midstep.
I've aborted missions midstep numerous times, and though I get excited about a work I'm doing later, I also regret having given up every single time. I've finished the process far fewer times than I've begun the process. All I can say here is sometimes I wish I could go back to those old ideas, dig them up, and try them again. But something just makes me want to forget those old ideas and try to work on something new. That's what I strive to do nowadays.


Just a thought, that's all. I'm no thief!
And an interesting thought to be sure. Taking one person's idea and making it your own would sound good from the viewpoint of the idea actually coming to fruition. But from the viewpoint of making your own ideas come to fruition, I would have to say the above-mentioned scenario would make it that much more difficult to get your own ideas into the world.

So in a sense, you would be writing someone else's books for them, instead of writing your own. That is another reason I don't like taking other people's ideas, either. In my own life, my own ideas must come first, or my real creativity will never burst forth and flower into whatever it was meant to be.

Stijn Hommes
06-21-2007, 12:26 PM
It's okay as long as you end up with a story they wouldn't recognize.
If you write something brilliant, you can be positive they're not going to start writing and you would've just robbed them not only of their idea, but also their potential love of writing.

Susan Lanigan
06-21-2007, 03:09 PM
"There is one story and one story only." said Robert Graves.

And he nicked that idea off Laura Riding.

Willowmound
06-21-2007, 04:32 PM
I only use ideas manufactured within my own cranium.

I buy my ideas online.

Overnight delivery.

Willowmound
06-21-2007, 04:34 PM
You can't steal what isn't owned.

Tell that to the American Indians.

(well, joke.)