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The Benefits of Derivative Writing

Whether you love creative writing or not, I’m sure you’ve been inspired to give alternate endings to a favourite story. Perhaps you’ve imagined what you’d do in a character’s position. This means you’re on the first step towards derivative writing, which loosely defined, means writing that is based on ideas from other sources. There are some who see derivative writing as imitation work or laziness, but I’d like to disagree and say that it’s a vital tool for budding writers.

If you take a moment to consider it, people have been telling stories for millennia, and what’s the chance that you’ll think of an original story? Hence, derivative writing isn’t inherently bad, especially not if you’re doing it for good reasons. Adapting stories can be fun and often stimulates amazing possibilities because you’re free from establishing all the little details. Derivative work can be an imitation in terms of plot, setting, characters, etc. Something as simple as a change to a single action can sway stories, as my students so often show me. Just imagine if the third pig from Three Little Pigs decided not to make his house of bricks but to use twigs or straw like his brothers. That would possibly change the story from fable into horror!

As Mark Twain said, ‘There’s no such thing as a new idea.’ New stories are more often than not a remix of old ones, with some new perspective or ideology. Yet, it doesn’t mean creative writing is impossible. Efforts to mix new elements into an old idea makes something unique. Young writers ought to arm themselves with this idea and know that there’s nothing wrong with taking parts from stories they know well. It’s an art, in fact, to see new connections. Many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays were retellings of other stories. Why should you be prevented from giving stories the twist you think they deserve?