As writers we steal from other writers, we steal from the woman standing in the checkout line, we steal from stories that we hear and...
Well, I prefer the word "adapt" to "steal," but it doesn't change the fact. When I'm walking down the street and I hear someone talking, the discussion triggers thoughts in my head and a whole new story line comes out of whatever little snippet I heard. When I'm reading a book a single line will catch my eye and I'll have to go write because it means something and I need to write down the storyline.
On the other hand, I can write fan fiction with the sure knowledge that this is too close to something else. If I don't call it fan fiction and try to pass it off as my own...
Adapt? Or steal?
Some time ago I was in an online writing class and a woman writing YA fiction asked if her synopsis sounded too close to Twilight. I could have simply said yes--it was a Twilight clone--but instead I talked around the point.
If you have to ask "is this too close," it probably is.
Normally I can use that, but some writers are always going to see similarities between what they've read and what they're writing. Those similarities may be there, and they may not. For example, if you have your main character getting on a plane with a supernatural being of some kind, going to rescue the love interest, that could be a similarity. It might also be entirely coincidence.
If you have your MC growing up in a world where children are routinely sent to fight each other to the death, it might be a similarity or it might be a coincidence. It depends on how those things are used.
In every story I write, I can see similarities between my writing and other things I have read, or heard, or seen. It's unavoidable, since our writing is based on our experience. The fun part is to take those similarities and move them in an entirely unexpected direction.
That being said, here's a piece of flash fiction--see if you can figure out what I "adapted" to get to it.
"Mom! He's breathing my air!"
I levered myself up and stood, breathing before I dived into the fray.
"I did not! Mooooommmm!"
"If you're not breathing, I don't want to hear about it." I winced as I heard something heavy bounce off the steel reinforced wall of the playroom.
I opened the door, ducked. A soccer ball flew past my head hard enough to dent the wall behind me. "Stop!"
Both kids stared at me, eyes wide and blue and innocent.
As if. "You will both stop this, now."
More blank stares. "But Mom..." Just a small whine that time.
"You will clean up this mess." I tried not to look at the shattered and mangled exercise bike in the corner. "Then you'll take your excess energy down and break up those trees your dad brought in."
I eyed my oldest son. "By hand, not with the chainsaw."
"But..." He huffed, and his eyes dropped. I saw the glint of mischief and wondered what he was planning. "All right."
I shut the door quietly and stared at the dent in the wall, then bent to pick up the flattened soccer ball.
Not that we really needed the firewood, but if it kept them busy and the house intact, the growing pile was worth it.