Writers Are Thiefs

I want to start with a quote from a book that I love, The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas (the sequel, the Perilous Sea, just came out, and it’s just as amazing as the first book). It goes like this;

They said that when an elemental mage called forth flame, she stole a little from every fire in the world. That would make Iolanthe Seabourne quite the thief, gathering millions of sparks into one great combustion.

I have always loved this quote. Not only does it have a sort ofย beautiful imagery to it, but I think it also applies to writing, not just magic – although writing is a sort of magic. It closely relates to another idea.

Every book you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters.

And so I read this and I thought it was incredibly profound. I still remember the first time I explained one of the books I was working on and they said, “Oh, sort of like {inserted already published book here}?” And of course I had not heard of this book but when they explained it the ideas were very similar. So I came to a conclusion, which is that

While we’re at it, here’s a different type of thief ๐Ÿ˜‰

Every writer is a thief.

We steal from books we’ve read and movies we’ve watched. We steal from the articles in the news that tell of horrors we can only imagine but that we know other people are facing every day. We steal from every single moment from our lives, every memory. We steal from conversations we’ve had and people we’ve met.

And that’s okay. Every single other writer is doing the exact same thing.

Face it, there are certain characters and elements to stories that work well, which means writers are going to keep using them. There are the stereotypical nerds and jocks and jokers and bosses and traitors and mentors and variations of that same character is going to show up in every book you read. What makes it interesting to read these characters every time is that their stories change. Their predicaments and environments and their friends and their pasts change so that, in fact, you never actually encounter the same character twice. And I think there’s something remarkable in that.

Look at how many times people have remade fairy tales (my personal favourites being the Lunar Chronicles ๐Ÿ™‚ ) or Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or Romeo and Juliet? But we keep rereading them because each one enter a new element, a new surprise, and because we still love them.

So don’t worry. It turns out being a thief is actually kind of fun.