NaNo 2011: Deconstruction IV – On Theft and Villainy

Yes, more spoilers here. I also spoil some other books, too, but hopefully not too badly.

This will be the last post of mine in the NaNo deconstruction series; in this post, I wanted to talk about some of my inspiration. But first, I want to start with an inspirational quote I just thought of all by myself: “All great art is theft.”

Yup. Made that one up all by myself. I’ll be here all week. Tips appreciated.

Ok, actually, I have no idea who said that first, but a quick google search shows that the sentiment is relatively common; in other words, there are very few (if any) truly original, creative ideas on the planet. And that was certainly true with respect to my story. I drew a lot of inspiration from a lot of different sources, and some of it was relatively blatant. However, before you come after me with your army of lawyers, I’d like to point out one things: I don’t think I had any ideas for which I said, “Hey! XXXX did this really neat thing, and I want to do it too, so I’ll just steal it and call it something different.” Most of my ideas I “came up with” on my own, and then realized after the fact that they were very similar to something that someone else did. Then I spent some time thinking about how I would differentiate my idea from the other person’s.

Doing something like this is an important part of the creative process, without question, but I think that for something like NaNo, it’s especially important, given how little time I had to actually be coming up with ideas. Being able to mesh ideas from a lot of different sources, with my own special twist on top, was really helpful for me, I think.

So first, let’s talk about where I drew most of my inspiration — at the broadest level, I spent a lot of time trying to come up with fantasy ideas that were different than the norm. So I ended up actually pulling in some ideas from science fiction books that I’ve read, as well as emulating the style of several notable fantasy authors that don’t just have elves and dwarves and all that junk. Most prominently in that second group is Brandon Sanderson, author of Mistborn (which, if you haven’t read this yet, stop reading my stupid blog and go read the books. Seriously. They are brilliant.) I also actually drew a number of elements from Dune, though these are slightly less obvious in places.

Anyways, that was my general philosophy with the whole thing; now let’s talk about some of the specific elements that are borrowed, inadvertently or otherwise, from other works:

The Tao: While the original idea for the Tao came from my story design session I talked about already, it does share some similarities to other ideas. In particular, Dune has a magic drug that grants clairvoyance and a few other abilities, with the downside of being exceedingly addicting. Furthermore, Mistborn has various metals that you ingest that grant magical powers. These powers are much more specific than what Tao is able to do, but much of the description of how Tao affects the world is very similar to the metals in Mistborn. The unique thing about the Tao that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else is the severe after-effects of using it. In principle, it makes it much more tactical — “Is this situation dire enough that I am willing to undergo the bad things that will happen to me afterwards, or can I handle it without the Tao?” This aspect didn’t show up very much in the novel, though.

The Setting: I didn’t really steal anything specific here, but I wanted the general mood and feel of the world to be similar to that of Game of Thrones. Some specific similarities are that it was set just before winter, and primarily in a Castle far in the north (Castle Whitefall versus Castle Winterfell — this actually wasn’t intentional, believe it or not!)

Tao’lin University: I had a really hard time writing this section, believe it or not, because I was trying to avoid making it feel like Harry Potter. I think I mainly succeeded, though about a week after I wrote this section, I started reading The Magicians, which is basically Harry Potter for adults. I noticed a lot of similarities between the Tao’lin sections of my novel and the university in the Magicians.

The Grey Reavers: The grey reavers are probably my most blatant rip-off of all; they are in many ways extremely similar to the Koloss in Mistborn — large creatures, formed from human bodies, can be commanded by people using Tao, go berserk from time to time for some unexplainable reason — yup, the grey reavers and the koloss are basically the same thing. This wasn’t intentional — in fact, I spent a long time trying to figure out ways to differentiate the two — but in the end, I couldn’t come up with anything particularly distinguishing about them and just had to keep writing. So, sorry, Brandon Sanderson. Don’t sue me.

The Chimerae: The Chimerae I never really gave a complete description of, instead only giving hints of what they looked like. This was intentional — I think that whatever you imagined them looking like is a lot more fearsome and powerful than what I could put down on paper. You’ll notice if you go back and read those sections that I never even tell you how they move — do they slither? do they have legs? do they fly? do they roll? I dunno; whatever image you have in your head is the right one. I will say, though, that in my head, the Chimerae basically look identical to hydralisks from StarCraft.

The Imperial Catechism: I didn’t end up explaining what this was at all in my story, because I couldn’t figure out something reasonable for it; it was just a random thing that appeared a couple of times near the beginning. However, my original inspiration for this was the Imperial Conditioning from Dune (funny, that guy was a doctor, too). I don’t know what I would do with this in a revision. I’d like to leave it in, because I think it adds a little bit of a neat side story, but it needs some work.

Ghola: This is also a term from Dune. I don’t feel particularly bad about stealing it, though, as a ghola in my world is totally different from the ghola in Dune. Mostly sortof.

The White King: The White King had a little bit of flavor of the Lord Ruler from Mistborn, but I don’t think it was super-obvious.

Anyhow, I think that about wraps up everything I wanted to say about this novel. I’m debating whether or not I want to do any more with it. I definitely think I want a break until the start of the new year, and then who knows? I may pick it up again, or I may let it go; we’ll see. Thanks for reading!

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