The night before I wrote this article, I had a rather interesting experience that made me think about the difference between inspiration and rip-offs again. This was mostly because I happened to watch two episodes from season three of “Sliders” called ‘The Dream Masters’ and ‘Desert Storm’.
Both of these episodes have been inspired by different movies. ‘The Dream Masters’ is a genuinely creepy horror-themed episode that has clearly been inspired by the “Nightmare On Elm Street” films and ‘Desert Storm’ has clearly been inspired by the “Mad Max” films.
However, both episodes are also at least mildly good examples of how to take inspiration well. Although both episodes take fairly heavy visual and stylistic inspiration from their respective films, they also add a lot of original stuff too.
For example, the horror in “The Dream Masters” doesn’t just come from the nightmare scenes but from the fact that a small group of people with magical powers wield an enormous amount of power over the world (a horror further increased when one of these people takes a rather stalker-like interest in one of the main characters). Likewise, “Desert Storm” also includes quite a lot of New Age-themed stuff too.
But, although these two episodes still tell original stories, they still almost fall into the trap of being “oh my god, this is just like…” rather than “hmm… this seems to be inspired by..“. In other words, their inspirations are a bit too obvious, even though they still avoid straying into the realm of plagiarism.
But, how do you avoid this in the things that you create?
The simple answer is to have lots of inspirations. The more inspirations you have, the less obvious each individual inspiration will be and the more “original” your work will be.
For example, for Halloween 2015, I wrote an interactive online novella called “Acolyte!” which can be read/played for free here:
Although the original inspiration was the old “Fighting Fantasy“/”Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read when I was a child (Steve Jackson’s “House Of Hell” especially), my interactive novel is distinctively different from these for several reasons.
For starters, it includes a lot more humour and it positions the main character as a more morally-ambiguous figure (rather than a heroic one). Although it includes illustrations, like in the books that inspired it, these illustrations have a more cartoonish style. Like in this poster I made for it:
In addition to this, it also included a few other influences such as the classic computer game “Blood“, the horror fiction of H.P.Lovecraft, classic Monty Python, a “Doom II” mod called “Reelism Gold“, classic British sci-fi/fantasy comic fiction (eg: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams etc..), a slight satire on occultism (eg: “ancient orders” that were started in the 20th century), “The Devil Rides Out” by Dennis Wheatley, and the hilariously melodramatic 1960s film adaptation of it.
Thanks to the wider mixture of inspirations, the interactive novella manages to be it’s own thing rather than a rip-off of any one particular thing. So, the more inspirations you have, the lower the risk of producing a plagiaristic “rip-off” (eg: almost a direct copy) of something else will be.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂