All authors are thieves. We steal constantly. In fact, I’d keep watch over your family jewels whenever one of us is in sight.
Now that I have your attention, and maybe even your outrage if you’re the kind of person who avoids the take a penny, leave a penny jar at your local gas station for fear of tempting the devil inside, let me explain.
I’m in no way suggesting writers (or at least most of us) will steal the gold out of grandma’s teeth, but rather that we steal constantly from the collective conscious. It’s just what we do.
If we didn’t, most of our books would be as long as half a Stephen King novel, so roughly a million pages. Single spaced. But I digress, which probably pads the word count at least by a hundred thousand. My point is, the things we steal revolve around what is already known about the world, about humanity, about action and reactions.
Take the word love.
When you hear it, your mind conjures a wealth of emotions and expectations. That is the collective conscious regarding love. Now as a writer, I steal your emotions and expectations in order not to have to explain love, again and again. I also twist your emotions and expectations. Maybe by tossing in the word ex. Now a whole new meaning of love is created.
You might be thinking I’m full of crap.
Mean, but all right. Here’s a better example. Setting. Every book has one. So how is it a writer steals a setting, unless it’s a table setting? Simple. 1920. I’ve just given four numbers, and your mind went to a place in history. A setting, if you will.
I stole a whole decade there. Damn, I’m good. Now those four numbers on their own are nothing but a representative figure. The history of that time is what I’ve appropriated for my own use. Add in a character of Al Capone and you have the beginning of a murder mystery without using more than 15 letters/numbers. You can almost smell the cigar smoke hovering inside a speakeasy, a cigarette girl in her short dress nearby.
Now tell me I’m full of it.
Wow, tough crowd.
Think of the most recent book you read, what is the actual setting? And what is the setting your mind filled in the blanks for the writer? How about your own work? Any character tropes you use to your advantage?
One lucky (depending on how you look at it) commenter will win an e-copy of the just released fairytale noir mystery THE LADY IN PINK by some very cool, smart, and really good looking author…whose name escapes me at the moment…. Leave your comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Saturday, August 22nd.
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE, The Assassin’s Heart, The Fairyland Murders and The Lady in Pink. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website.
Maryann Miller says
Great post, and I so agree about the stealing. Although I would rather call it sharing. 🙂 I just finished reading Half Broke Horses, and the setting was so clearly defined, I recognized parts of Texas that were also clearly defined in books by Louis L’Amour.
Patricia Stoltey says
My most recent read was Shotgun Moon, set in Montana on a small ranch and in a small town. The author (K.C. McRae) gave us plenty of opportunity to visualize the details of the setting on our own (perhaps stealing from our own past readings and travels), and I appreciate that.
This is such a great commentary on how authors move through life. We do “steal”, and not just from the collective consciousness but also from the events around us. The fight we overheard, a song on the radio. Anything. Everything.
Julie Kazimer says
It’s a terrible habit, that makes our books come to life. Conversations are my favorite thefts.
Margot Kinberg says
To my way of thinking, this is a strategy for inviting the reader to make connections with the characters and setting the author has chosen. And that in turn makes it more likely that the reader will enjoy and remember the story. To me, that’s the goal…
Julie Kazimer says
Absolutely. Everything is about the reader.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
It makes sense. Most of my stories take place in space so I had to rely on the fact readers had seen a lot of science fiction movies.
Julie Kazimer says
Must’ve been hard when you pretty much had to choose Star Trek or Star Wars to steal from.