I woke up with a brilliant idea. I don’t remember my dreams; I presume I dream as I’m told that everyone dreams, but they don’t stick, once I’m awake they’ve gone. But this time it was clear in my memory. I had produced a Bollywood version of Emma, there was dancing, singing, bright colours and it worked, I wondered why nobody had ever thought of this before, it was perfect. Mrs RB quietly pointed out that was a Bollywood version of a Jane Austen novel in production, and I watched in dismal a few months later when Bride and Prejudice was released. I had been beaten to the punch. Again.
In a near-future dystopia, where undesirables, not criminals exactly but non-conformists and outsiders, were confined in internal exile, free to live within the imposed limits, but restricted by the totalitarian authorities. The most prominent restriction was the ban on books. In a Nazi/Soviet format, any book that was considered to be anti-establishment would be destroyed. To get around this, a collective of rebels would each memorise one book…
It took me a while before I realised that Ray Bradbury had got there before me. I didn’t need my own Man from Porlock, I had the cold finger of realisation creeping down my spine ruining the idea.
Stephen King has examined this phenomena a few times. Where does an idea come from? Who does it belong to? Can anyone truly claim originality?
I used to read Herbert Van Thal’s Pan Book of Horror stories and try the guess the twist in the end of each tale. If I got it right, I would have either a glow of satisfaction, or a sense of disappointment in that I ruined the story for myself. Imagine if you guessed the twist in The Sixth Sense in the first ten minutes of the film, it would be a completely different experience. Occasionally, when I got the twist wrong, I would consider the version that I had come up with to be superior to the writer’s, however, I never thought to rewrite the story and share my alternative with the outside world. I don’t understand Fan Fiction.
Although not Fan Fiction, as it’s authorised, William Boyd is in the process of writing a new James Bond novel, the latest author to take on Ian Fleming’s character. I’m not sure why.
The popular perception is that there are only seven plots; everything can be boiled down to seven basic stories, seven jokes, three chords or six degrees of Kevin Bacon. If that is true, then Boyd could write a spy thriller based in the sixties, the hero be a borderline alcoholic, win the girl and save the world. He could declare an inspiration from Bond without the baggage of writing a sequel that has to follow another author’s template.
In the past I’ve sought out and read the originals to Horror films: Dracula; Frankenstein; Jekyll and Hyde; Invisible Man etc etc and lament that all the ideas have been used. Modern sequels have never appealed, to my mind they would either overshadow or taint the prototypes.
Nowadays I’ve accepted that the next time I dream an idea, I can wake up and get it down on paper before the knock on the door, then confess that Shakespeare or Plato had got there first, and admit it’s a twist on an old favourite, after all there are only seven plots. Maybe in my future Dystopia the authorities wouldn’t need to burn books but would simply switch off the internet and cut off the supply, after all they’ve already started to close the libraries.