A few months ago I wrote a post criticizing the movie Avatar, which has become the most read (and most contentious) post in my otherwise quiet corner of the Interwebs. I didn’t even think of it as particularly critical; I liked the movie, I just wished it had stretched further with the story.
A couple weeks ago, I was reminded of this when Writing Excuses (a podcast with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells) did an episode titled How to Steal for Fun and Profit, in which they elucidated many of the same points I had been trying to make, but better and much more thoroughly.
Basically, the point of the podcast was this: All writers (as well as all types of creative folk) are influenced and inspired by the works of people who have come before them. Where’s the line between influence and copying? What do you need to do to make an idea truly your own?
Several different works were mentioned, including Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book”, which is an homage to The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Avatar was also brought up. Here’s what the podcast had to say about it (the transcription is from A Word in Your Eye, which transcribes all the Writing Excuses podcasts):
[Brandon] Do you think that he was too close to other films, yes or no?
[Howard] I think that they took stories that they knew were safe, they took story elements that they knew were safe, because everything else they were doing with that film was so bleeding edge that they wanted to not take a risk on the story. I reviewed it as the best Fern Gulley remake ever.
[Dan] Avatar is a case where I think I may be more forgiving than a lot of the reviews and comments that I’ve read. Yes, it was a story we’d seen before, but it was the best version of that story that I think I’ve ever seen. So that’s a case where for me, he did enough to make it his own.
[Brandon] I saw the film and I really deeply enjoyed the film. And still walked out of it saying, “Gee, I wish there had been a really great different story, too.” It was a great film that felt… that left a little tiny hole in me that kept me from saying that was a fantastic film. But it’s hard to fault someone for making a really good film that works on so many levels and has made so much money.
I agree pretty much word-for-word with Brandon (or he agrees with me, either way). I really enjoyed the movie, but the lackluster story, particularly compared to everything else, nagged at me. And of course, I can’t help but be happy that some of my favorite authors covered the same themes I did a post about. I feel vindicated. Smart, even.
But seriously, if you fancy yourself a writer, particularly a sci-fi/fantasy writer, check out Writing Excuses. Short, funny podcasts, all with great writing advice, and all from authors who are succeeding professionally (and who made it there in different ways).