The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.
– François-René de Chateaubriand, Le génie du Christianisme (1802)
People like to rag on Shakespeare for re-using the plots of other people for almost every play he wrote. They also like to claim J.K. Rowling stole all her good ideas from Tolkien (I used to be one of these people), or be shocked that Hollywood can still make lots of money without coming up with a new plot. And it’s true – endless recycling of ideas can get tiring. But the more you look at great literature, the more you realize authors were inspired by what came before. This is not something to be ashamed about. Be ashamed about re-writing and re-using plots and plot devices badly.
I just ran across the above quote without knowing too much about the guy who said, but when I looked him up I found he had several interesting quotes. Here’s another good one:
Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.
–François-René de Chateaubriand, Les Natchez (1826)
The battle of Troy was just one of millions of tiny skirmishes that happened throughout history, yet we still know about it today. That’s how good (and inimitable) a writer Homer was. 🙂