Friend and fellow-blogger Happy Creations posted this commentary recently on writers who use other people’s words in their work. I’d love it if you read her post and shared your thoughts – here or on her post.
I haven’t read the book she refers to, but her post got me thinking about how I use other people’s writing and how I feel when I read it. My initial reaction is to agree with Happy Creations – our words should generally be our own.
There’s a character issue: one might have a character who is just the kind of person who tends to steal the language of others (For example, a young lover might decide to win over his beloved by stealing Romeo’s best lines). I think that might make an interesting element to a story, especially when those lines are placed into an alien setting, such as the modern world, and when the recipient’s reactions are perhaps different from Juliet’s.
But for me, references are best at that level. If I wrote the hypothetical Romeo book above, I’d enjoy putting oblique references to other aspects of Romeo and Juliet; using the themes of Juliet’s responses, but to completely different ends. If I read it, I’d probably enjoy going back to Shakespeare’s text and trying to find these little Easter Eggs.
It’s the same when I read (or watch a movie of) a modern-day version of or story-inspired-by a classic, I enjoy it in its own right, but I also like to spot the more subtle hints of similarity. Ultimately, though, I think these homages rarely live up to the original. Even Bridget Jones’ Diary is unlikely to have quite the lasting impact of Pride and Prejudice.