Those Who Can’t Create

Back when I was in school, one of the things that used to astonish me was most people’s lack of originality.  By which I don’t mean that they didn’t have enough piercings or tattoos (I have a culturally inherited phobia of making permanent alterations to my body, which is why my parents refused to pierce my ears and I got teased about it.  I then pierced my ears myself at eighteen, but I wear earrings so rarely I’ve had to re-pierce them twice.)

What I mean is that when teachers gave writing (or drawing, but we’ll go with writing) assignments most people would echo our last reading assignment.  Worse, most of them didn’t seem to be aware they’d done it, or to what extent they’d done it.  And EVEN WORSE most teachers didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with it.

Okay, to give a concrete example: sixth grade – we spent four months reading a book about a poor kid who finds a stray dog and nurses him to health.  (Okay, the class spent four months.)  I read it that evening, then I hid SF books under the book and kept an ear on the discussion while I read my way through the golden age.  (Hell is a language and literature class that moves at the pace of a normal 11 year old.)

At the end, we were told to write an essay or story that involved friendship with a dog.  Ninety percent of the class wrote back a summary of the book, even though that was NOT the assignment.  I mean, they didn’t even try to write say about how we make dogs and dogs make us, which is what I would have done, had I written an essay.  The rest of the class – except me, of course! – wrote “stories” which were in fact reworded scenes from the book.  They ranged from “barely reworded” to “completely rewarded” to “Might have extended the scene” but they were still IN FACT part of someone else’s work, using their characters.  No, calling the boy Mike instead of Michael did NOT make him a different boy.

Me, well, I wrote a story of a magical dog and three wishes.  Okay, not stunningly creative.  Look, kid, I was 11 and it was an in-class essay, unannounced.

That same year, when asked to make up a legend, I got my story downgraded and got penalized because one of my classmates said he’d read it in “a book somewhere” (No, he effing well hadn’t, though I daresay he’d read a dozen like it.  It was an enchanted maiden story [per instructions] and that has limits) and the teacher agreed that word choice, coherence and detail were beyond an 11 year old.  SO I MUST have copied it.

Yes, I am still steamed about that thirty eight years later, why do you ask?  The fact my parents were of the school that the teacher is always right meant no one would fight for me, and that was one of the grossest injustices I’ve had to deal with.  (And part of the reason I fight for my boys in similar circumstances.)

Taken in their totality, and added to the rest of my career, I’ve come to the scary conclusion most of the human race can’t create at all.  They can’t even create in the limited amounts that require you to mash together two forms/thoughts/stories.

Worse, most people can’t tell when you’re being creative or not.  It’s not a put on, they HONESTLY can’t.  They don’t even know WHAT creative is.  I’ve had “stunningly creative” applied to some of my work where I was phoning it in – and it clearly wasn’t – and I’ve heard “stunningly creative” applied to other people’s work that makes me want to scream “no, taking twilight but making her fall in love with the werewolf instead, is NOT creative.”

Of course, if you ARE capable of creating you tend to underrate how creative you are.  You know who you stole from – even if heavily disguised.  Of course, sometimes you don’t.  I didn’t realize to what extent Darkship Thieves was Heinlein fanfic, for instance because the things I hit the same way are incidental to the story.  Stuff like “Fresher” for bathroom – and that’s because I grew up reading Heinlein and it has become, in a way, interwoven in the fibers of my being.  My consolation is that he did the same, to an extent, to Mark Twain, and hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.  (My future history, etc. is actually my own and differs from Heinleinian future history in marked degrees, though both follow TANSTAAFL and such, logically.)  But in re-reading Darkship before I wrote the sequel I kept going “Oh, G-d.  I could have made up another word!” (The different is before the read I’d re-read Heinlein.  Before writing it I hadn’t.  Hence the “fibers of my being” thing.)

Anyway, this was a shock when I entered school because my family WAS creative.  Someone trying to just re-write a scene from a book would get laughed at at the dinner table.  So.  Now every time I venture out into the world, in the middle of people not engaged in writing for a living, I’m shocked by this creative inability anew.  The family my husband and I married is creative, the boys wildly so.  So.

So we come up against a problem that has bedeviled Academy the last several years, and which will hit indie hard.

When I taught college English comp I was given a packet of what I was expected to do in grading papers.  I’d done this before, in the late eighties.  I didn’t realize since then the requirement to be omniscient had entered the profession.  Because, you see, the packet instructed me to give zero for ANY plagiarized paper copied from online, or any paper from an essay service.  The thing is – do you KNOW how many papers there are on line?  I can’t read all of them!

What I did was to take random sentences from suspiciously well written (compared to that student) papers and run them through search engines.  I never caught anyone red-handed, but then I KNOW a lot of these papers are behind pay walls or subscription walls.

For my money, if I had to plagiarize a paper in school, I’d go and find an OLD book of essays, or a thesis, the kind of thing no one reads, something not digitized and copy THAT.  Of course, beyond the moral wrongness of such act, my pride would never allow me to do that.  And beyond all that, the type of person who isn’t creative enough to write his/her own essay is also not creative about where he/she finds it.

Since I quit teaching for the fabulously well paid career of author (Snort, giggle) I’ve kept in touch with kids one way or another.  Sometimes they invade my blog – er… okay, that only happened once years ago, but it lasted for a month.  And yes, I also still resent that.  Did I EVER say I was a good person? – and sometimes friends’ kids, or kids’ friends ask me to review something for them.

I will point out both sets of young people are among what we would class as the best and brightest of their class.

Houston, we have a problem.

Creativity hasn’t got any better in the younger generation.  Heinlein maintained the percentage of people in a population who could truly create was fixed.  It might be.  We keep discovering this sort of ratio, though we’re not sure how it holds.  BUT the problem is that on top of that, these people  – BRIGHT young people who can speak just fine – can’t carry a sentence from beginning to end and make sense.  It’s not just logic that’s tortured.  It’s grammar and syntax.

Yes, yes, I know, these blog posts lock grammar, syntax and punctuation in a dungeon room and do kinky stuff to them.  BUT I write them while half asleep one way or another and I do no more than a cursory (and fast) typo hunt.  The essays I see from those kids are… proofread, worked on.

And yes, I KNOW I do this for a living.  Is it possible I’m judging them too harshly?  Well… maybe, but I don’t think so.  I used to teach, remember, ten years ago.  And even from ten years ago, the level of writing has gone way down.

I could hazard guesses as to why, including what they did with my older son’s class, where they let them learn spelling “free form” and “from reading.”  Which means as smart and articulate as he is, I still need to yell at him over egregious spelling mistakes.

When he was in third grade, I realized they weren’t teaching him ANYTHING relating to expression, writing and word usage.  NOTHING.  His essays read incomprehensible to me.  This is when – according to him – I started a reign of terror.  If you hear him tell it, he was an innocent happy child and I scarred him for life.

Maybe.  I’m pleading the fifth.  What I did was make him read – at first aloud, because he was pretending to read and/or skipping whole paragraphs – great essays.  I checked out of the library books of famous essays and I had him read them aloud.  Then I had him write essays.  And I deployed the sarcasm for every glopped sentence and every thought that led nowhere.

I’m happy to report within three weeks the boy could write essays upside down, sideways and possibly underwater.  And then I did it again with my second child at a somewhat older age.

What this means to me is that the kids CAN be taught.  They just aren’t being.  Heaven knows why.  That’s not even the point of this blog.  (Just let me tell you if you have a child in K-12 MAKE SURE THEY CAN READ AND WRITE.  Also, buy them a Strunk and White and make them read it aloud to you.)

The point of this blog is that now even the small minority born with (well, you explain it!) the ability to create and the verbal fluency that leads to story telling will have issues expressing themselves.  And that they might not even have any idea when they’re committing plagiarism by stealing others’ words.

I’m not worried about their getting stuck, btw – the kids, by and large, are always all right.  These poor children just have a much steeper slope to competency.  They’ll get there, once they realize there’s a problem.

Here’s what I’m worried about, though: when you couple how little even creative people create, unconscious leaning on someone else’s work which all of us do (Heinlein: They all steal from each other) because DUH we’re social monkeys, and not even being aware of what good writing is… we have a massive problem.

I said before the least creative people can’t even seem to understand what CREATIVE is.  They’ll commit plagiarism without noticing.

Now, most of them, thank heavens, don’t aspire to being novelists.  But there might be half a dozen delusional enough to try it, considering how sad our education is right now.

We could end up with a bunch of inadvertent plagiarists who’ve never been informed writing a scene from someone else’s novel and changing the names is NOT a short story.  And here’s the thing, they can put it right up there for sale.

Now, look, let’s not be dramatic.  This has ALWAYS happened, even with traditional publishing.  I can’t remember the name, but not so long ago, they found that some “literary” darling had copied almost in whole books from a “hack” romance writer.  Different character names, different titles.  And yep, this went through a major house.

So… what can be done about it?  Well…  NOT legislate it.  Any law passed on it will simply be used by would-be gatekeepers to go after anything they don’t like.  (Say, accuse me of plagiarism because I use the word “Fresher” for bathroom.)

It is a problem, but there is no problem so bad a law can’t make it worse.

Here’s my suggestion:

First, police yourself.  I do.  Obsessively.  Yeah, I let certain words get through.  I tell people I grew up in Heinlein books, they’re part of who I am and you write from who you are.  Deal.  I disagree with my literary daddy enough on matters of future history, (well, I grew up in different countries and generations) that we don’t overlap enough to repeat the same stories.  Yes, you could say Darkship is my answer to Friday – and to an extent A Few Good Men is my answer to TMIAHM, (which remains my favorite book) but the actuation of the same “principles” in very differently built worlds makes ALL the difference.  And “Yes but” is a valid reason to write a science fiction novel.

Where you need to police yourself is in the things you don’t/wouldn’t think of stealing.  They’re not part of you.  You don’t read them for fun.  There is a reason most of us – unless editing or working with half a dozen VERY close friends/mentees – don’t read other people’s stuff.  I’ve had newbies ping me on facebook begging me to read their novel and tell them if they’re aiming in the right direction.  Beyond the fact that I just don’t have TIME, it terrifies me.  The things I’ve found getting under my radar (never more than a paragraph or a character name) are usually from stuff I read from my kids, or a sentence in a news blog.

You’re only human.  You’ll “lift” minor stuff.  But do try to prevent yourself from doing it.

Second – police others.  NOT obsessively, and for the love of heaven, don’t go and report someone to Amazon because you “think you read it somewhere” like that boneheaded boy in my sixth grade comp class.  (He’s so lucky I’ve forgotten his name, isn’t he?)  BUT if you come across a passage and remember it from another book, go and check.  Apparently there is the charming habit of lifting wholesale and reselling under another name/cover.  So, if you find one of those, yeah, that’s reason to report it.  (No, I don’t mean same plot.  If you read Romance, or some fantasy, you’d NEVER do anything else.  I mean, if it’s word per word the same book.  Report it.  DO.)

If it’s not word per word, but you find a few pages (let’s not try to go to the level of a sentence or two.  That’s just … what it is.  Sometimes a sentence is just right, and you don’t remember reading it before, and if you’re head is a word-cement-mixer it can happen.) that are the same, it might be appropriate to tell the author.  Politely and under “Well, sorry.  I don’t think you realize you did that.”  And then of course that author bears watching.  VERY carefully.  And if you get one of those emails and they are right, DO watch yourself.  (No, it’s never happened to me.  NO, I don’t think it could happen.  Not pages, word per word.  BUT I’ve been very ill while writing some books, and I wrote one – Draw One In The Dark – while so concussed I was experiencing “lost time”.  Could I have done it then?  Gah.  At the time I was terrified I was killing people during the hours I’d lost. [As far as I can tell, mostly I went shopping.  Which is just weird.])

I’m firmly convinced no more plagiarism is taking place than ever has.  It’s just that now it’s our responsibility and we don’t want it to give indie a bad name.  The big guys only need an excuse to regulate us out the whazoo.


Third and most importantly: if you have kids, if you mentor kids, if you teach – teach them what true creativity is, and what plagiarism is.  Teach them plagiarism is illegal.  Explain that intellectual property IS still property.  And that writing the same story but calling the kid Mike is not wildly creative.  Explain to them that data might be free, but the compilation of data isn’t.  Story forms might be free, but the expression of the story ISN’T.

Kids aren’t stupid.  They will learn.  It’s just that no one is teaching them.

162 thoughts on “Those Who Can’t Create

  1. “Kids aren’t stupid. They will learn. It’s just that no one is teaching them.” Yes, yes, and yes! As a student, this is a concern of me, that my school doesn’t teach about fiction.

    In middle school, most of the writing assignments were essays? Fictional short story projects? Zilch. There was a Creative Writing class, but I dropped it before the semester started because I was afraid I would learn nothing from it.

    And I still remember a case where a student applied the standard paragraph structure onto his personal narrative.

    Good thing I got a group of my friends writing short stories for our gifted program class for a couple of weeks. The quality varied (including my own), but it was a fun experience. One person from that group is still a beta reader, although I really need to re-read her WIP.

    P.S. I was almost concerned about art class, but a number of the projects came out fantastic. On the other hand, I wish there were more hand-on projects in the core classes.

    1. well… creative writing classes NORMALLY (with one or two exceptions I’ve heard of) are worse than useless. They teach you the wrong things. This is why our field is one of mentors and mentees.

      I used to mentor young writers clubs for the local schools, but I rather let it drop. Maybe I should restart. I mean, the fact my kids are out of K-12 doesn’t mean I can train young writers, right?

  2. I remember googling a topic that I had written about previously, and that I wanted to revisit in a new article. (Non-fiction writers do that a lot.) I came across a link to a science fair winner who had done his project on something similar to my article. So I clicked on it, and it opened up to a page . . . that was virtually word for word the first article that I had written. (The only differences were spelling errors the science fair winner had introduced.)

    The article had appeared in a small, specialty magazine that did not have a digital edition. (Apparently the kid had done what you suggested — copied it over from print.) Since it was years after the science fair, and a few years more after the article first appeared in print, and since I had signed over all the rights to the article when it was sold, I did not do anything further. It’s not like I was losing anything by what he had done, and I did not want the hassle involved in exposing what had happened. (I have a life that is already too full.)

    Besides, I can wait. No doubt, years in the future, this kid will be running for public office after having faked an ethic background – 1/32nd Algebensian or something — to get a job at a law school. That’s when I will reveal that he plagerized his science fair project.

    More fun that way.

  3. My husband and I were talking about this awhile back. What is taught is “critical thinking,” which in my opinion is a load of cr*p because there is nothing critical about spouting a set doctrine promoted by the teachers.

    I have been writing counter-crosswise to most of my teachers since I was in school (before I was homeschooled). It made life miserable sometimes so I can relate. Even worse when I was in college in my late thirties I was very upset to find that most of my English professors were NOT creative. Many of them regurgitated what they read from “experts.” So if the professors are not creative and the teachers are not taught subject matter (just how to teach), then how are the children going to learn creativity?

    My husband is creative with numbers. I am creative with words. It surprised me that people didn’t make up stories in their heads before bed so they could sleep better. I have been surprised that people regurgitate what they hear on the news or what they are told and don’t think for themselves.

    I need to get off my soap-box now. I don’t mind that you use certain words from Heinlein. I would be more worried if you lifted off entire passages from his books. 😉

    1. I just read recently the idea that a liberal arts degree teaches critical thinking! Maybe the original liberal arts degree, which promoted a well-rounded education, and included math and science and such (which do promote critical thinking), but not what currently passes as one. Yes, it’s b-s. There are people with college degrees who never had to come up with an absolute correct answer that couldn’t be b-s’ed away with enough words.

      1. Holds hand up. Okay, but at least I KNEW I was faking it. And it’s not quite true. The LANGUAGES were real. The rest was just what I HAD to BS my way through to get the piece of paper. What worries me is when kids don’t KNOW they’re regurgitating. (Yes, I did. I made it a game. “Let’s see how little of this book I can read and get an A in the class.” Me, who read everything. To this day I’m proud of not having read most of the post 1960s literature we were assigned. I skimmed it. It was enough. Pretentious… er… never mind.)

          1. I think…the difference I have is that in a science like physics or chemistry, there IS no regurgitation. Each problem is different and has to be approached on its own merits and with its own details. I had to learn to THINK, to twist and turn the problem around until I could see what was really going on, and then and only then could I tackle solving it.

            Likewise, if I drop something into a ms it is generally deliberate, and I am careful about copyright. LOL it does happen, though – I had to change a character’s name in Burnout when I realized that I’d used a REAL astronaut’s name! Fortunately I was still in writing mode and it hadn’t been submitted yet.

            1. Names are the easiest to purloin without realizing it, particularly in my case, where a name will show up in my head with its own person attached. Names, OTOH are not copyrighted, and even if it’s someone who really exists, unless they existed at THAT time or are notorious in a way you don’t mean to echo in your book (I doubt I could have a fluffy private detective called Joseph Stalin — unless his back history explained it, for instance) it’s not worth stressing about. Say you really would like to call your character Anthony Johnson and you find out that’s the name of you mailman… does it matter? Not a bit. That’s why the disclaimer at the beginning of the book about its being a work of fiction and not intended to be any real person, living or dead.

            2. It also helps that most everything in the, and engineering disciplines has an actual right answer. Math is a little more problematic, because writing a mathematical proof, especially as you get into more advanced math, is actually a special kind of literary exercise: you’re writing a convincing argument, using a specialized sublanguage.

              1. My post-secondary education was acquired over 30 years (beginning in 1964), from twelve different schools on four continents, all through the Air Force. I ended up with 214 semester-hours of credit, but no degree — never stayed in one place long enough to satisfy “residency requirements” for one. I will say that most of my instructors were above-average. Quite a few of them were Air Force officers teaching part-time for extra money. Even the correspondence courses I took had good people at the center to answer questions, and most base libraries are better than average. Of course, I never took many of the “soft” courses, and NEVER a creative writing class (two Tech Writing classes, however). What colleges and universities get away with “teaching” these days nauseates me.

        1. Well, I’ve b-s’ed my way through some classes, too. And I knew I was doing it. I’m good at it, which is why it bothered me even then. But there’s a time and place for classroom survival.

          And b.s-ing is required for post 1960s lit – isn’t it just more of the same?

          1. You do not earn grades by giving the right answer, you get grades for giving the expected answer. Sometimes they are the same thing but the correlation is mostly accidental in other than the hard sciences (which, of course, is why they are hard. gravity doesn’t grade bridges on a curve.)

              1. I have seen some interesting articles and pictures of some of the longer suspension bridges. I have gone over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Wild, the upright towers are slightly at angles because of the curve of the earth..

            1. RES, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. People will do what they think gets them the “right” answer from someone in authority, whether that’s in high school or in business. Folks will glom onto whatever they think the teacher or whoever is looking for. As the old saying goes, “If the monkey wants a banana, then give the monkey a damn banana.”(personally, I hate bananas and prefer kiwi)

              It simply doesn’t pay to be creative. Unless you find that one marvelous teacher out there who will reward eccentricity and nurture it, most kids will have the creativity stripped from them in the same way the rest of us do – by being told they should conform to the group. Sometimes you have to conform, but a lot of the time it just stifles people

              1. For a school assignment I wrote a story on the invention of soup. The character who invented soup had been reduced to only one pot and did not have enough of anything to make a single dish of it. In desperation she mixed what she had in their pot. Everyone around her shook their heads at what she had done, ‘It won’t be right, that is not how it is done.’ Then out came a most delicious, nutritious and satisfying dish, the envy of the others.

                The teacher was having the class critique the stories we had written. What was I told? Why didn’t you make it like Stone Soup?

              1. Nah, bridges are specifically pass/fail.

                Bosoms, OTOH, gravity does grade on a curve.

                  1. I find the story of the catastrophic failure of the bridge because it structure was too uniformly regular reassuring. Kind of illustrates the need for a little less conformity in the world, no?

                    (Sorry if it is too personal, as I live across country it never posed a real threat to me.)

                    1. the younger boy has created a self-catching bridge. The problem of course, is that we don’t have materials to make the lifesize one work. BUT he got an A on the project for “the most ingenious design I’ve seen in fourteen years” according to the teacher. So… YAY

                    2. Not to disparage Marshall’s design achievement, but you do perceive the irony of bragging about “the most ingenious design I’ve seen in fourteen years” in the context of THIS topic of blog discussion, don’t you?

                    3. Of course I do. Though I’ll say this — his design impressed his older brother. Now THERE’S a rarity. 😛 Actually being my kid, he has no clue how he did it, except he stayed up on the day before it was due for testing, next morning, first thing in the morning, with balsa and glue. Do you know one of the things I dreaded most when they were in K-12 was the nine o’clock pm casual-sounding inquiry, “mom, do we have any balsa wood?”

                    4. Ah, now that is a standard of achievement i can well appreciate.

                      Not only do I have brothers older and younger, my older brother once wrote home from the summer camp we were mutually attending to recommend our parents bring me home because I was wasting their money spending all my time there reading. I note two factors in my defense: the camp library had the first vintage Tom Swift books I’d ever found (and the first Heinlein) and some godawful bureaucratic foulup had resulted in my not getting into the desired Arts & Crafts section (I made a mean ashtray) but rather into Tennis lessons — which for me meant an hour spent walking back to the fence or up to the net to pick up balls.

                    5. I grew up about an hour and half from the bridge, and I to found its failure reassuring. Although I’m positve the engineers that designed would have a different opinion.

                    6. the camp library had the first vintage Tom Swift books I’d ever found…

                      Wait – your summer camp had a LIBRARY???!?!?

                    7. Culver. They also had a boarding school during the off-season, or so I’ve been told.

    2. YES. On people not making up stories. This baffles me too. STILL.
      And yes, the problem is that these people THINK kids are naturally creative, which is kind of like believing they’re naturally good. (Head>desk. Repeat.)

        1. I used the craziest sentences for using our spelling words in. And when I got bored with that, I used to make up spelling word sentence stories. Starring horses, of course.

          1. Now, I don’t consider myself particularly creative, but the teacher used my paper one day to show the class how to do their spelling word sentences. The rest of the class had a tendency to write practically the same sentence for every word, just changing enough to make it fit, but that made me nauseous, so I tried to change it up (Which also made me nauseous while I was writing them, due to the effort, but at least I could go back and re-read them after they were done without wanting to throw up).

            Yes, Sarah, your comment about reading a three page essay from a blank piece of paper the other day made me sick. Blech. I hate you. :-p

  4. “there is no problem so bad a law can’t make it worse.”
    Hooo yes! But that is another, completely different problem.

    In defense of those kids re-hashing the book they’d just read, that might be because of how little reading they’d been exposed to. My first stories were pretty derivative (though I didn’t outright copy), but I just read more widely, especially fairy tales, so I looked more creative than my fellow students. Same with artists, we start by copying – other artists, photographs. Most learning, of any kind, starts out by imitating – walking, talking – especially when we’re young. We learn the basics, get some confidence, and then we break out. Or the old stand-by – first you learn the rules, so that you know what you’re doing when you break them.

    Plagiarism, I agree, is something else. I always wonder if what pours out of my brain onto the page is lifted from something I read a long time ago and have forgotten.

    1. Oh, yes, so do I. It’s one of the terrors that accompanies us who read everything and constantly, isn’t it? “What if I ONLY THINK I’m creative?”

    2. I had a similar experience to Sarah in high school regarding being accused of plagiarism. I wrote a Sherlock Holmes short story pastiche and submitted it to the literary magazine. The entries were blind-judged, meaning no authors’ names were on the entries. Turns out mine didn’t get published because THE ENGLISH LIT TEACHER was convinced it was plagiarized and that Conan Doyle himself had written it and it was in one of the collections.

      Same teacher told me not to read MacBeth because she was going to teach it my next year of HS and didn’t want me getting “confused” on it. Waited until she left the library, then checked it out and read it anyway.

      And then there was the English teacher who vowed and declared that “comedic” was not a word. Same lady pronounced “mischievous” as “mis-CHEEV-ee-us.”


      1. One of my kids’ English teachers completely got minimalism wrong. Even assuming minimalism should be taught as “The right way to write” and not just a literary current — I oppose THAT idea, but it might be a losing battle since education is predicated on “the one correct answer” — last I checked it was on the warpath against adjectives and adverbs ONLY. Either this woman wouldn’t know an adverb if it bit her in the *ss — possible. I finally stopped the invasion of my blog which she was directing by telling her ONE MORE (spam) COMMENT and I would scan in the kid’s “corrected” paper with her comments and post it for all to see. (“Barely literate” comes of mind) — OR she, on her own, showing a remarkable spirit of enterprise, decided to extend it to pronouns. You know like… possessive pronouns? So that instead of His pen you had to say Bill’s pen, even if there was NO OTHER “his” in the piece. She also had certain proscribed “bad” words, because they evoked a “nasty” image in her mind. One of those was “show” because to HER it meant a flasher. And apparently the kids were responsible for the kinks in her psyche. Yes, one does sometimes wonder, doesn’t one?

      2. How do you pronounce mischievous? I have always pronounced it “mis-cheev-ee-us,” that is the way I have always heard it pronounced.

            1. We use multiple pronunciations to keep from getting confused.
              Boo-ee is James Bowie
              Bo-ee is David Bowie
              We’re keeping Bow-ee in reserve.

            2. Family being regionally mixed I have a lot of those in my vocabulary. N’orlens vs. New Or*leans, for example.

              There is a reason so many of the early news reporters came from Nebraska, or sounded like it — it was considered an universally understandable American accent.

          1. Wahl, lad, ah uses ’em both, according to mood. But I tend to only use “mis-cheev-ee-us” when I am feeling a mite “MIS-cheh-vous” — and when I am taunting the French I pronounce it mis-SHAY-voo.

            1. And when I am playing the toff I answer such a “how do you pronounce” question: “Impeccably.”

    3. I happened to find a copy of David Gerrold’s ‘The Trouble With Tribbles: The Complete Story of One of Star Trek’s Most Popular Episodes* from a local second hand bookstore some decades ago. His telling of his realization that he had pretty much managed to use the same plot for his story as a part of the novel ‘Rolling Stones’ by Heinlein has made quite an impression.

      I’m pretty obsessive about checking, and try to never use something I know for sure is from something I have read/seen, unless I’m trying to do one of those ‘yes but then there is this twist’ stories, but I still keep having these ‘Oh that’s where I got that from’ moments when reading my own stuff way too often to my comfort. But I rarely completely change those bits, even if I notice them before I have managed to get the whole plot hanging from that particular point/detail/scene, just sort of run them through the blender a couple more times. Change parts, not the whole thing. I don’t think I’d get anything written if I got really obsessive about it.

      And I just noticed one the covers I have just finished is almost exactly the same as something on one of the published Kindle ebooks, and I’m dead certain I haven’t seen that cover before I did mine. Except there is a dragon – I painted mine, but the pose is almost the same, so presumably that dragon and mine have both been made under the unconscious influence of something you see a lot when you look at pictures of dragons. And both are posed over a full moon – again rather common imagery, putting something as a shadow against the full moon.

      But damn it, now I have to start figuring out something for that cover all over again, and I liked the one I had.

      1. Hm, not too many typos this time considering that the cat tried to get between my hands and the keyboard the whole time I was typing that. I usually keep my keyboard far enough on the table when I’m mostly just reading, not writing, and she likes to sleep on that space. Big offense when I then start typing something.

      2. Don’t sweat the cover. Unless it looks like you traced it, no one will kick. SERIOUSLY. Dragon over a full moon describes ninety percent of a certain type of fantasy cover.

        Yeah, some ideas just come either at the same time, or years later but without influence of the ‘original’. I have had several sf ideas that had already been written, only I couldn’t be expected to know it, as they weren’t available in Portuguese. Even now, I KNOW some of my books echo books I haven’t read. (Look, you can’t read everything, and much as you might force yourself to field-read, there will always be books you start and go “ew” and toss, never knowing after the chicken rape scene, the central idea of the book is the same you’re writing about.) My answer is… don’t sweat it. Some people accused me of plagiarizing Friday with Darkship Thieves but it’s a nutty claim. It’s based mostly on Thena’s concern about being human — however, anyone (ANYONE) who reads me knows that’s the central concern of ALL my books, including possibly the mysteries. “Being human” and “belonging” twined perhaps with the idea of a divinity and of fate are part of my core puzzles in life, so they come out.

        “But Sarah” you say. “You said that Darkship Thieves is your answer to Friday.” Well, yeah, but answer isn’t the same as copy. It’s my “answer” in that it’s concerned with the nature history and possible future of “made humans” or artifacts. … As are a lot of my other stories. That was the first novel, though. The structure — risking spoilers for those who haven’t read it — is actually closer (though not the same) as The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak.

        In the same way A Few Good Men is my answer to The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It’s the story of a revolution on roughly the same principles, but I took away the sentient computer and the prisoner culture, which meant OTHER STUFF had to be filled in, and then it had to be fitted to the conditions of the Earth in Thena’s time. So, there might be some sentences that echo Heinlein (almost for sure there are) but the structure is closer to The Count de Montecristo, and the actual revolution owes more to the American revolution (including a couple of tongue in cheek allusions) than to TMIAHM. (Not that I find anything wrong with TMIAHM. It’s my favorite Heinlein and possibly the best novel ever written BUT it’s not mine. AFGM is.)

        Anyway, Marja, the point is we can’t write as though the world was new and no one worked before us. We’re going to hit upon themes that echo our time and culture and which sometimes give the idea of raining from the sky into our skulls. (My agent once upon a time forbid me from wearing tin foil hats. Ah! I just realized now I can. Maybe it will slow the influx?) We can’t draw without walking territory someone trod before, either. So unless it is clearly and obviously THE SAME THING, just go with your work.

        1. My agent once upon a time forbid me from wearing tin foil hats. Ah! I just realized now I can. Maybe it will slow the influx?

          NO! DON’T. Some clever students at M.I.T. did research on the matter and found that tin foil hats do not protect you, they amplify signals. Of course, if that is what you want…

          1. CACS, I have fifteen novels backed up, waiting my health stabilizing to, I guess, spend 12 hours a day writing. I don’t think I COULD handle more.

        2. Yes, don’t forget that Heinlein once said that all the stories have already been told, and all any author does is take a story, file off the serial numbers, and claim it for their own.

          Likewise, Doc Smith, in one of his rare afterwards (don’t remember which book) was talking about writing, alluding to his education on the subject, and said he wasn’t sure if there were three or seven storylines, but certainly there was nothing new under the sun (heavily paraphrased). So apparently, there was a maxim when he was going to school that all stories follow a small number of basic plots, and everything else is decoration.

        3. If you are an American of a certain age, pretty much any night you turned on your TV you had some kind of Hi-Tech Spy show. Man From U.N.C.L.E., I-Spy, Get Smart, Mission Impossible, Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Wild Wild West, Secret Agent Man … they were in the zeitgeist and seeped into your subconscious concept of what spies were and did. These days we’ve got all the various CSI stuff driving prosecutors and police departments mad because jurors apparently each and every !@#$* crime scene to get the full treatment.

          Even if you largely ignore such things (perhaps especially) they shape your ideas and background concepts and define what “feels right” or is accepted common knowledge about something. As stories are largely expressions of that subconscious it would be more surprising if writers drawing from the same well produced vastly dissimilar work.

        4. Yes, you’re right. It can be a bit depressing sometimes though, when you think you have actually managed to think up some new angle to something, only to find out that about gazillion people have already used something similar, or sometimes the exact same thing. Worse when you realize that it’s likely even you picked that angle from something you read at some point, instead of coming at it all by yourself.

          But about that cover, I’m still probably going to make another one. I ended up with the dragon silhouette/moon mostly because it’s relatively easy to make that into something which looks good. May keep it and use it for some short story, but I guess I’ll try to think of something else for the novel.

          But damn it, mine looks a whole lot better than the version already in use. 🙂

          Well, good part, I’m getting practice with this cover designing thing, and it has turned out to be rather fun too.

  5. Ah, so you used words or terms created by Heinlein. Is this plagerism or is it a reflection of how new words and terms enter the public vocabulary? English is far from a static language. While this is not always for the better, it is what it is.

  6. Regarding kids rehashing things: I saw my daughter do that when she was an elementary-schooler, and my son is doing the same thing in third grade. Every story he tells includes elements of the most recent book, movie, or Dr. Who episode. But I don’t think that’s a problem. He’s filling up his mental cement mixer, and is still trying variations on a theme.

    It’s when adults do the same (and get paid more than I’ll ever make for doing it) that I get depressed.

    1. Yes. It’s completely normal in elementary schoolers, though of course I was a snooty and pretentious brat — I know that shocks you — but I’ve seen it ALL the way to college and THAT worries me. Oh, and adults too.

      1. Yes, it is an important intellectual development phase as we do our internal world-build. Perhaps what you’re seeing, then, is an absence of intellectual maturity?

        1. I prefer to think of it as a stifling of that maturity. Folks will grow if they’re allowed and/or pushed, but the tendency nowadays is to not do that for fear of making others feel bad that they’re not as creative. Sad.

  7. Creativity has many modes of expression. For some it comes out in art — writing, music, visual art — for some it comes out in other modes, such as the mechanically creative who can look at a device and say, hey, if you put in a cam there and a lever here, ramp up the torque over there …

    As for Heinlein or others sneaking into your writing, that is a reflection of how effectively they’ve done their creation, embedding their ideas in your subconsciousness. When you find elements of their worldbuilding forming the bricks of your construction call it homage and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    1. Don’t forget that real creativity can also come out in math and science. Since I have worked in those fields (even though I am not really a math person – mainly electronics) I have seen creativity in those fields first hand.

      1. Oh indeed, quite so and terribly careless of me to neglect mention of it. Almost ANY mathcentric field has the concept of the “elegant solution” and, since such fields revolve around solving problems, they call for much creativity. Well-written computer code would be another example of creativity in a logicentric profession.

        For that matter, Alexander’s solution to the Gordian Knot represents another aspect of creativity, that of redefining a problem in order to render it solvable.

  8. One consequence of the mass culture has been the disappearance of what were once common competencies. At one time it was routine for people to play musical instruments, sing on key and accomplish simple sketches. These all represent skills that can be taught and learned, more laboriously for some than others, yes, but acquirable skills all the same. Now, thanks to the growth of mass popular culture we are being exposed to higher levels of talent and competence, raising our benchmarks while simultaneously diminishing our incentives for developing our own skills.

    1. Marsh and I CAN’T be taught to sing on key. But we have the hearing issues to justify the lack. Robert taught himself to play piano with a “teach yourself” book and, well… Dan’s piano, at six. Writing and art we all do.

          1. Tonedeafness (the perception problem) is pretty interesting, since there are so many different levels (people who can perceive instrumental stuff and tune their instruments, but can’t deal with vocal tones, etc.) It’s often hereditary, but it sounds like your grandma just won the recessive lottery or got it some other way.

            Singing on key can be either a perception problem (ie, tonedeaf, or need to learn pitch perception), a musical-math-in-head problem (to tell where the key is), or a muscular control problem. The problem is that control of the vocal apparatus is mostly done by involuntary muscles, so… yeah, there’s a trick to it. Some people learn to sing on key through insane persistence (ie, sliding up and down until they hit a pitch and then remembering what that felt like and trying to produce it again and again). But since I can’t even learn to sightread reliably, I’m not the person to talk to, when it comes to insane persistence.

            1. I don’t think I HEAR music the way anyone else does. It’s not exactly tone deafness. I have mid-range hearing loss, but beyond that, I think I have at least a touch of the issue my kid had as a little boy (he’s now better, but at this point I think he can’t learn to HEAR like other people.) He — and I suspect I from memories of childhood — hear everything at the same level. The problem is in the filtration of the input through the brain. There, the adjustment goes wrong, and you don’t hear properly. A manifestation of this, in me, is that to this day I have zero directional hearing. I can’t tell which way a sound comes from. (This is distressing when I’m driving and hear sirens.) I also used to be a multiprocessor in self defense. When the conversation down the table is as loud as the one next to you, you can either listen to neither or listen to both and dip in at will — an habit that used to disconcert people and be borderline rude. Again, I have this in a very atennuated form. My kid has this in a severe form. Also, I think I got over it — except for bad habits — at around eleven. He is still getting over it. (This seems to be a gender differential for this issue.) I know at twelve I could take dictation from the piano — i.e. write down the notes I heard — I remember it vaguely. Then I got the ear infection to end all ear infections and it was all up again. Marsh, I think, never LEARNED to hear — directionally or tonally. You could tell when his hearing improved some because the speech impediment went away (okay, he worked at it, but…) and he could follow instructions even if there were other sounds. Also he stopped screaming that his classmates were breathing too loudly and he couldn’t hear the teacher.
              Anyway, I have NO idea how that messes with hearing music, but I think neither he nor I hear it normally. I tend to enjoy it mostly for the words, with some musical support. BUT in my thirties I started enjoying classical too, so… who knows? I will note though that in a musically gifted family the only people who can’t sing are those who also have the other symptoms: slow at writing, dyslexia or problems reading, and lack of hand eye coordination till at least mid-teens.

              1. My spouse is somewhat reverse in the music he likes — he prefers instrumental only, and has a hard time hearing actual words to musical accompaniment, unless it’s really clear, like Filk is. (He also can’t pay attention to words-in-music while driving.)

                In his case, it’s probably A: related to the Asperger’s he shares with the kid, and B: learned. Or unlearned. The kid does just fine (I’ve been singing to her since she was out of the isolette!), and is in chorus and stuff.

                1. The sensory issues are in the Aspergers spectrum and often associated but not hard-linked. As in, if you have the sensory issue you might or not have Aspergers. (Though a responsible examiner will check.) If you have Aspergers, you will have the sensory issue in some form. If your kid shows ANY signs of it — writing slow, trouble hearing in noisy environment, etc — I have a lifesaver for you. I only found it in the kid’s junior year, and I wish I’d found it first grade. Livescribe pen. It helps SO MUCH with their schooling. (I don’t get any money from them, but they’re responsible for the fact the kid is going to college. Again, take in account, of course, he still worked his behind of, etc. BUT well…)

                  1. Ignoring matters of taste, I tend to prefer instrumental to lyrical, because processing speech, especially in the language I know, is more difficult.

                    Music that I like, if I can choose to stop, is very useful for coping with environmental noise pollution.

                    1. One problem with lyrics is how frequently they are mind-numbingly banal. One reason I find for enjoying World-Pop is the lyrics in other languages become just another musical element. I am confident that “Give Peace a chance” cannot sound any more stupid in any language in which I am not fluent.

                    2. I agree with many lyrics being mind-numbing. I tend to like ballads because they tell a story; of course I recall a music teacher in school disparaging ballads for that very reason. I have always liked music, and mainly music with lyrics, but like so many subjects I like (history comes to mind) I hated the classes given in them at school.

                      Thinking about what I just wrote let me rephrase that; I have always liked ballads, and mainly ballads with music. The only classical I have ever liked is Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, and the only instrumental group I really care for is the Wicked Tinkers, on the other hand I used to listen to a heavy metal group from Germany, since I don’t know German that may as well have been instrumental 🙂 CW McCall was a great storyteller, but really not all that good a singer, but I like him anyways.

                    3. I thought everybody had the problem of other conversations in a room intruding. I mean forcefully and overwhelmingly intruding. I do not wish to eves drop, believe me, particularly when I consider the type of inanities I often hear. It was all too recently, while trying, and mostly failing, to follow what The Spouse was saying in a restaurant, that I realized that The Spouse does not have this problem. Sigh.

                      I really struggle with having on any media that has words I can comprehend while reading or writing. The words of the media keep over riding and inserting themselves in my thought stream. (It does make for some odd combinations of ideas.) I had the same problem in school with conversations around me. When I gave birth to The Daughter no one seemed to believe that I was hearing the conversations from the hall and rooms around me until I started repeating them.

                      I often use music without words, or in languages with which I am unfamiliar to create white noise so I can read. Bach and other baroque composers are particularly good when I am studying. The Daughter, on the other hand, does not like to have such music on when studying because she finds the structure too interesting and starts paying more attention to the music than her books. So she listens to familiar rock when she studies.

                      And the government and schools wants to treat us as if we were largely interchangeable cogs? Nope, won’t work. Not even in this one household.

                  2. So far, the kid hasn’t shown a problem hearing in a noisy environment — it’s more likely that if she gets bored, she’ll tune out and be thinking of her own internal worldspace… Although she can be doodling, apparently not paying a lick of attention, and when the teacher asks a question… Bam, answer. (This has been observed by two professionals who, well, observe things like that.) Her organizational skills are more of an issue, and I’m not sure that a smartpen would help any more than putting stuff on her iPod Touch does… She’d have to do it, and not doodle all over the place.

                    (On the other hand, she’s phobic about loud noises, mold, and needles, and shares some quasi-supertaster elements with her dad, such as No Bell Peppers. (More bell peppers for ME! Ahahahaha!) Being an extrovert, she’s at least not overwhelmed by crowds like her dad is. Whee…)

              2. I have great pitch, but I find it interesting that you could hear more than one conversation, because when I was really young I had the same problem. I still cannot stand being in a room with a group of people who all have different conversations going on at the same time. it drives me up the wall. I always thought it was just the noise. There have been times when I would go to my room and put a pillow over my head so that I could I could have blessed quiet. It was really bad in a household of nine children.

                I wonder… I do have directional hearing problems as well, but not tonal. My husband laughs because I look in the opposite direction of the sound.

              3. My wife is dyslexic, including having a severe problem hearing phonetic sounds. She can’t sing – it’s a monotone. She loves music, but has no ability to play an instrument because she can’t really distinguish the notes that well. She also has a problem called otosclerosis, which results in the calcification of the bones of the inner ear. She’s about 1/3 deaf now, even after one surgery. I often consider it part of the reason she has such a time with spelling and foreign languages.

            2. She is gone now, but even her voice had a strange tone to it. So maybe it was a muscular problem. It was very insane in a family with tone perception. 😉 Her lullabies were horrendous. But we loved that she tried.

              1. Marsh had a speech impediment relating to his issue and I’m told I have a “mid range deafness” accent, more than a Portuguese accent. I’ve had fans start to sign at me (which is sad because I’m so non-visual I probably COULDN’T learn signing. And yeah, I’m going deaf, which mom’s family does, which means I’ll carry around a tablet, for people to write at me) after hearing me, because a relative of theirs has mid-range deafness (clearly more severe than mine.) Actually if any of you is EVER talking to me in a crowd and I either say or agree with something outrageous, like you know “What do you mean isn’t it dinosaur in here?” it’s because I didn’t HEAR anything. I don’t even realize it, I just catch myself nodding or giving what I think are logical answers to what I heard. See, it has two varieties. either I shut down completely and go on automatic, meaning I give up on hearing and just nod or smile and glaze, or my ears make up stuff and I think I heard fine. The last is when the surrounding sound is so so, the first is when it’s really loud. Like… nightclub loud.

                1. My hubby is losing the high tones (probably from shooting without ear protection and other stuff in Vietnam plus working in high noise environments). So I am his hearing ear blonde. I hear it and he finds it. lol We are such a pair.

                2. I wonder to whether this is part of the first six months neuron sorting, that period during which the brain picks out the useful cells from the not so useful? I have read authoritative pronouncements that in cultures with tonal languages (e.g., Chinese) everybody has perfect pitch. OTOH, it may simply be evolution has selected out those prone to hearing problems (which might show up in lower proclivity toward sinus and inner-ear infections?)

                  1. In my case it might have something to do with being very premature at birth, but Marsh wasn’t, and besides I think one of my uncles (at least) had the same issues, so…

  9. When i was going to school, I had a different sort of problem. We were prohibited from writing reports in History or Science classes by copying from the Encyclopedia, though of course we could use that as a reference. My problem was that everything I wrote looked and felt like it came from the Encyclopedia. The way the articles were written there match the way I tell people about technical things. You can read what you want about me in that, but it was a problem.

  10. A few random (or maybe not so random) thoughts.
    I do understand about the “creative people don’t feel creative” idea. While I have had the good fortune to sell a number of stories, in pretty much every case I can see the roots under the hair dye.

    My daughter is very good at drawing (for an eight year old and at least the things she practices drawing, which is mostly Sonic the Hedgehog related stuff). She wanted me to make a “book” she could sell. I was game (Could always scan her stuff and e-publish. Might even get some sales from novelty value.) However I had to try to explain her that I couldn’t do that so long as she was writing/drawing “derivative works” (I didn’t use that wording, but that’s the idea) and that, no, just changing the name and calling it a porcupine or an echidna is not enough. I’ve been trying to encourage her to branch out, get more “input” into her creative centers so the mix coming out would be less likely to be “whatever her current interest is”.

    As for echoing lines or even passages from works you’ve seen/read, one problem I have with that is that I’ll come across a passage that is so very powerful, for me, that it sticks _hard_ in my head and just won’t let go. My favorite example of that is a line from Lois McMaster Bujold’s debut novel “Shards of Honor.” Cordelia is answering a question about her feelings for Aral and replies, in part, “cut him and I bleed.” Powerful line. And it speaks a lot to what a really close emotional bond means to me. Well, I’ve got a scene in a fantasy novel (currently awaiting response for possible professional publication) where I wanted to express a similar idea. The problem was that nothing came out but that line because, in my mind, it was so perfect. But I was not going to use, not knowingly anyway, Ms. Bujold’s line in my story. And so I hemmed and hawed a bit and the scene is weaker for it but I’ve got this wall of the “perfect line” that I won’t use and I just couldn’t get past it.

    Well, maybe I’m not a “creative person” after all. :-/

      1. Well, yes. But the cat in question is Greebo turned human. And yeah, that line is magnificently apt (So is the entire description of Greebo-as-human).

        1. We have a not-our-cat outside who is named Greebo. “Not our cat” as in we can’t bring him inside. He’d either kill the others or break a window to get out, or both. He got his name at about eight/ten weeks of age. His mom was a stray who gave birth in the crawl space beneath the house next door. I’d been feeding her for a good while. I tried to tame her, but she wouldn’t come close enough. So when she had kittens, and they came out from the crawlspace I attracted them with food and started taming them. (Eventually neighbor captured them but kept them locked in a bathroom for a year, then threw them out, by which point I had to tame them all over again. Greebo is perfectly tame, just claustrophobic.) At the time there were a couple of Mad Feral Toms fighting over the neighborhood. The MFT who sired Greebo was a good guy and often “babysat” the kittens for mama. But the other MFT was… Mad. One day while papa cat was away, the other MFT came around to do what cats do: kill the litter, so that mama will go into heat again. Mama interposed. He beat up mama. And then… and then Greebo… unsteady on his legs, all fluff and meows, jumped on the MFT’s head. I was watching this from an upper floor window, and was about to run down to chase the MFT off. No need. Greebo scratched and bit, and the MFT ran off, with this living kitten-hat tearing him up. Then I went down to look for Greebo. I found him walking down the block, looking like “you should see the other guy.” And that’s how he earned his name. Since then, he’s beat a red fox and someone who was trying to hide in our mud room. He’s a sweetheart to us, and perfectly good mannered, but to other cats/animals/strangers… well….

          1. Oh wow- I love your cat
            I have had quite the experiences with cats. It changed when I was on chemo, but cats would come from all over to sit on my lap. One tom even bit my ear… yea I know… kind of creepy lol… For some reason they think I am just a big cat.

            1. We love him too. Add to that that when you give him Blue Buffalo food he purrs while eating and takes breaks to head-bump my ankles — and he’s the COOLEST.

    1. Cordelia is answering a question about her feelings for Aral and replies, in part, “cut him and I bleed.”

      Whoa, is that where I got it from? I’ve used that line myself recently, and I thought I was being original. And it’s been ages since I read Shards of Honor. I guess it stuck in my subconscious just that long.

      1. I’m pretty sure I had heard that line long before I read Shards of Honor. In fact my mind seems to insist it is a line in a song (if not it should be 😉 )

      2. It’s all over the place. I used Google Fu! “cut him and i bleed”

        City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare (pub 2012?)
        Starsky and Hutch fanfic, “Kudos,” by Drummergirl
        A couple of blog entries…
        Harry Potter fanfic, “Thicker Than Blood,” by Thistlerose

        AH! Change the pronoun, and you get Jeff Carson’s “My One And Only Love”! (Apparently also titled “I Almost Never Loved You.”) “She’s all I need / Cut her and I bleed.” But the only date I can find for those is 2001.

        I think Bujold still has the earliest manifestation I can find — though since I can’t find that on the web, there may be earlier. I don’t think it’s from a song, though; lyrics tend to go up even when they’re old.

        1. It is of course a twist from the Merchant of Venice “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” It is a CLEVER twist, mind, and a demonstration of how to be original while still being grounded on pre-existing foundations. It works both if you hear the echo and if you don’t.

              1. Not your fault that my Shakespeare class was taught by a guy who focused on the tragedies. (Beth Summarizes The Hamlet Movie: “Everybody dies and we all go home.”)

          1. Oh yea – It has been awhile since I read the Merchant of Venice. Probably where I heard the echo. And, it also makes the Bujold “cut him, and I bleed,” much stronger in my mind.

          2. I misquoted slightly:

            “Well, I don’t hate him. Can’t say as I worship him, either.” She paused a long time, and looked up to meet her mother’s eyes squarely. “But when he’s cut, I bleed.”

            It remains, for me, an extraordinarily powerful line.

          3. I’m not sure I’d agree that Cordelia’s “Cut him, and I bleed” line is a twist on Shylock’s “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” line. They’re similar on the surface, but different in the depths. (Accidental alliteration there — ha!) Both are taking an obvious fact about humans — if we’re cut, we bleed — but using it to demonstrate two very different things. Shylock is protesting his humanity against those who would treat his people as sub-human. Cordelia, on the other hand, is making a point about how far Aral has gotten “under her skin”, that on the emotional level, she can’t separate herself from him anymore. The mere use of a blood analogy isn’t enough to convince me that Bujold was borrowing from Shakespeare here.

              1. A point which echoes back my earlier comments about that which is in the culture resonating with the writer/reader, giving greater depth and timbre to certain structures and phrasings. For example, the movie Galaxy Quest works because we all recognize the source material and the twisting of it in the new story.

          4. Oh thank you. My head had for some reason started on Portia’s speech, The quality of mercy is not strained, it dropeth on the earth like a gentle rain.. I knew the phrase has not come from there. Still it kept making me think of that speech. You have cleared it up: same play. Ah, relief. Now I can enjoy the evening with The Spouse. 🙂

  11. I tend to remember good strong quotes, and then there are places in the stories where they just fit right. As long it is a story set in the future I tend to go ahead and use them(many times as quotations of some forgotten forbearer). But those are always one-liners, and I figure if a quote is around for a couple hundred years now, there is a good chance it will be around in some form in another few hundred years. I try to never use them without a concious decision though. I might have say a Marxist leader on planet X say, “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” But he will say at a quote from history (sorry poor example, but you get the idea) to support his agenda.

  12. In fifth grade, the rather pitiful would be bully (he wasn’t even that good at being a bully. I found out about serious bullying in junior high) accused me of copying the article I used for info on the poem I wrote for an assignment. Teacher absolutely didn’t buy it, she knew everything published about North Carolina history and was familiar with the article, and she was submitting the best work for a children’s NC history writing competition. (I got honorable mention and publication.) That it was a hideous pastiche of Edgar Allen Poe she was too kind to mention.

  13. TINS: When I read a certain fantasy novel by [major current author], I could tell you almost to the page the book she’d borrowed ideas from. Which tells you 1) how good the original source was, because I’d not looked at it in at least fifteen years and 2) how things get borrowed. There was no outright copying, but the inspiration was pretty darn obvious.

    As to the academic side, I knew several profs who subscribe to a no-cheating service. You put a paper in as a Word file, and the service runs it through a database of articles and canned papers (they buy them). If there’s a problem, “presto!” Not only do you get proof, but you get a hard-copy of the source paragraphs with full citations. That way the prof also legal evidence if a student and parents decide to make threats.

    When I was in class, I just shook my head at the cheaters, because it took me less effort just to write a paper than it took them to search, copy, paste and tweak everything!

    1. When I read a certain fantasy novel by [major current author], I could tell you almost to the page the book she’d borrowed ideas from. Which tells you 1) how good the original source was, because I’d not looked at it in at least fifteen years and 2) how things get borrowed.

      It is worth keeping in mind that we each of us a stew of partially digested ideas and concepts and that Creativity frequently is no more than a consequence of Thesis C getting bumped up against Antithesis R in a hitherto unnoticed way. I daresay that each of us has poured the equivalent of 10,000 stories into our heads and those stories comprise our map of the Universe by which we steer and from which we contribute our own stories. Ain’t no Tabula Rastafarians here, boys.

      Creativity is a skill, unlike originality which is a talent. The two complement and enhance each other but should not be confused. We are each the product of not only every idea we’ve ever sampled but of the ideas that went into the ideas which went into those ideas.

      1. “Immitation is the highest form of flattery”

        I’m terrible with remembering who quotes originate with, but have a good memory for the quotes themselves. Apparantly you weren’t the only one who thought the original fantasy source was.

      1. The human heart resonates to certain structures, in that, at least, I think Joseph Campbell had some sense. It isn’t that you “swipe” structure, it is that unless a story corresponds to one of those structures it just does not “work.”

          1. I think her interest is hardware.

            I see one place where it can be usefully explored: art. Specifically, perspective. For people who have “learned” perspective in painting it can be very hard to look at art prior to the introduction of perspective, and cubism is equally hard to comprehend. But most of human art predates perspective, and I suspect it is baffling to anyone who has not learned it. What you see is determined by what you know to look at.

            I suspect we might find similar effects in music, exploring the differentials between rhythmic, melodic and tonal variances in music. I know that with some styles of music (e.g., Heavy Metal) I have to learn how to hear it before it becomes other than repetitive noise — but I can learn.

              1. A lot of times, it’s theological proportions. Like “Jesus is a toddler with the intelligence of God, so we’ll make Him look like a little man instead of a baby.” (And I’m sure there are a lot more instances of this.)

                Then the next generation of artists made Baby Jesus look exactly like a baby, but with his male bits showing, so everybody would know for sure that Baby Jesus was a circumcised Jewish male human as well as God. But it was still a theological statement more than a pictorial one.

                1. No. At least when we studied Art in Portugal in high school and were taken to all these churches to look, it just seemed to be they had no clue of proportions. Around the thirteenth century they started paying attention.
                  LOL on the male bits. The local “lady of the manor” in my dad’s generation (I mean, her son was my dad’s age) had a difficult pregnancy and made a vow. The picture of the “virgin” over the altar is actually this lady, bare breast out, nursing a naked male infant. I UNDERSTAND her son became a priest. Possibly because all the local girls had already seen his bits. Every weekend. During mass. (Okay, that’s probably not it, but it amuses me to think so. Can you imagine going to mass there as a kid?)

                  1. Well, I don’t know from Portuguese art. But yeah, now that you mention it, I think I’ve seen some old Spanish statues like that. (At art museums, not in church. Man, that must be so awesome to have seriously old stuff looking at you every Sunday.)

                    Well, it’s a mom’s job to show off embarrassing baby pictures. 🙂 But such a recent example of such a donor picture… wow. Yeah, that wasn’t exactly medieval times.

                    I remember when it was a big thing with US Catholic ladies in the blogosphere who breastfed, to find pictures of Mary nursing. Eventually it sank in, that finding pics and statues like that was like shooting fish in a barrel in most parts of the Catholic world. Just not in our parts of the US.

                  2. I do hope that the church was kind enough to assign the young man to a different parish. Could you imagine having to officiate with a statue of yourself as a nude babe at his mother’s tit out there for all to see?

  14. Meh — these days, it’s impossible to write a decent paper and *not* trip a plagiarism alarm: There is only ever one “correct answer”, and only so many English-language words which can be used to express that correct answer, and so many people in school having to write essays on the same f***ing topic; thus, any paper which gets it right is all-but-certain to share enough words and phrases with “correct” papers which have come before it to trip the alarms.

    Makes me very-much glad: A) I always went for the more outre topics, and; B) I am no longer in the educational Konzentrationslager.

  15. Oh, I haven’t told y’all that I got the article on me in Wikipedia booted partly on account of “plagiarizing” Travis Taylor on the details of one of the books we co-authored, have I? I was adding some details to the article that someone else had already written and suddenly I get bombarded with plagiarism warnings and within a few hours they had taken down the article. I wasn’t given time to explain or anything. (Same week that they were protesting the big SOPA/PIPA thing, too.)

  16. True creativity is a talent, like throwing a baseball or painting. However, like those talents, it has to be nurtured and developed or it will never grow into what it should become. More people, not just teachers, need to encourage this talent and not be afraid of it. Think about it – true creativity can frighten some people.

    Further, we have to get out of the mindset that everyone is equally talented or creative or whatever. This is emphatically NOT true. I freely admit that I can’t play basketball like LeBron James or belt out an opera like Pavarotti. But in today’s world, we’ll make the poor kids feel bad if we promote some over others on something silly like they’re more talented creatively than someone else. We should be recognizing that there are folks who can tell a better story or come up with more creative ideas than others. That’s not a bad thing. Everyone doesn’t need to be equally super at everything, because as Syndrome said, “When everyone’s super, no one is.”
    (Yes, I took that line from The Incredibles…I hope I don’t get prosecuted for plagarism 😛 )

    1. I can’t sing, and I think I was twenty before I stopped going around with permanently skinned knees. Partly this was because I’m me and kept trying to do stupid stuff. As I told a friend recently “I have my very own teen male. He lives in my brain.” The other part, though was because I had NO sense of balance whatsoever and tripped on my own feet. Since I was freakishly tall for a Portuguese girl of my generation (I was five six when fully grown. I’ve gotten shorter by about two inches. Don’t ask) the school’s basketball coach spent HOURS trying to get me to play basketball. The problem wasn’t even that I couldn’t shoot baskets. At eleven, I wasn’t coordinated enough to dribble the ball. (I haven’t tried it in years. Some of that stuff got better in my late twenties. My older son says there is a developmental explanation for this.) So… I amply pay for any storytelling talent I may have. (And at any rate I had to work like h*ll at that too. Still do.)

    2. For another look at Syndrome’s declaration, check out Highways in Hiding by George O. Smith. 1956. Available on Gutenberg and from Amazon. Louis Sprague de Camp addressed a similar issue in “Hyperpilosity”.

  17. Because my kid is an Oddling (stars know the deck was stacked in that direction from day one), I kind of ran with that. She’s never going to fit in entirely, and this is not a moral failing on her part. Weird Pride may’ve gone a tad in the other direction at her age, in that she needs to tone it down a little… But her desire to Embrace Being Different will probably keep her from copying anything and calling it creative. (Though she’s perfectly happy to fanfic as well as originalfic; My Little Ponies meet World of Warcraft MMORPG… “Why are our names above our heads?” “WHY CAN I SEE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IN A WORD BALLOON??”)

    It may have helped that she imprinted on some of my short, fluffy stories, involving an alien race which uses “Look at me! I’m DIFFERENT!” as a mating behavior, and therefore has words for “stealing other people’s uniqueness” (the behavior is considered very rude, and worth fighting over; “copy cat” is fightin’ words!) and “being unique.” Plagiarism would be anathema and SHAAAAAAME! (To an adult; a baby or little kid is expected to be “baby-same” in many ways. 🙂 )

    Clearly I should lobby to get my stuff included in preschools, so the idea of “thou shalt not copy wholesale” is embedded in impressionable heads? 😀

    1. Given current pedagogy’s efforts to turn all children into soulless drones, such a lobbying effort is likely to get you the modern equivalent of tar & feathers: denounced as racist sexist homophobic.

      1. Pish and also tosh — the species is not human at all (so to discriminate against them is, indeed, racist! Speciesist, too), and does, in fact, run to female… hm, “domination” isn’t quite the right phrase, but it’s probably close. Matrilineal, with females showing up as Heads Of Family (and thus clan, or starship) more often than not. (They’re felinoid; I had enough cats to know where the true societal structure lies, and it’s in the six queens communally nursing their kits in the middle of my bedroom floor (entry provided via a hole in my windowscreen), not in the toms who fathered those kits.)

        (Note: Those cats woulda been spayed if I’d had the money for it. Alas, I did not, and it took that many of them with kits to verify the need for that money to be spent by those who controlled the checking account. 😦 )

        Thus far, up here, the public school system for our town has been pretty good. (Overall, overall.) Down in Texas, where I grew up… yeah, I’d be more dubious. Up here, there’s a chance that something Weird and Quirky might slide on by.

        Hmmm. I probably should think about packaging up the Really Fluffy stories and marketing them to the Kid Side of things up here. Must. Learn. CreateSpace. Formatting. :p

      2. Or all the youngsters would write stories about how they were unique and demonstrating that by wearing bell bottom blue jeans and army shirts from the local army/navy store … no that was the late sixties, early seventies. Well, whatever.

        There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    2. Both of my daughters are “Odds”, but in slightly different ways. Mitzi, my oldest, produces a sci-fi comic on Facebook. It’s not my cup of tea, but she seems to have a lot of readers. She’s also busy with all the sci-fi, D&D, and other types of conventions in Denver, and frequents the local renaissance fair. My hyperaccusis won’t let me be in a room with more than three people.

      It HAS caused some problems in the past. One of my youngest daughter’s high school principals didn’t think I was real until we had our second telephone conversation (that one was about a fight at school — that my daughter won), and he met a couple of friends of mine. I’ve taught all my children to be themselves, not a copy of what someone else wants them to be. That can cause some very unusual situations at times.

  18. I wonder to what degree we readers actually want creativity. As anyone who has lived with one knows, small children delight in hearing the same story over and over and over an … And they will complain if any of it varies from prior tellings.

    As we grow older we grow more sophisticated — by which I mean we learn to disguise our desires. We still like the old stories, but we insist on a veneer of freshness, the better to conceal our want of reassurance of the familiar. In that Joseph Campbell was right. It is tempting to employ the adage about there being only two stories: “the hero’s journey” and “a stranger comes to town,” but that ignores “boy meets girl” and doubtless several others. Still, the number of basic stories is undeniably limited and, people being what they are, a truly NEW story would probably be rejected (a point underlining the absurdity of “derivative” complaints.)

    What we REALLY like are new variants on old stories. Tell us Arthur, Guinivere and Lancelot as a Godfather-type story, or set it on a 1885 cattle ranch and our ears perk right up. Put it into an interstellar empire and we’re on the edge of our seat. Change the ending so that Guinivere follows her heart to Arthur, renouncing the attractions of Lancelot and we’re positively giddy. Change the setting, twist the ending, play with motivations, toss in a man & dog — it’s all good.

    Or change Holmes & Watson to Wolfe & Goodwin to Cool & Lam, it doesn’t matter. John D. MacDonald once compared writing the Travis McGee series to a folk dance: the author and audience know the steps and are just willing to allow minor variances, a filip here, a flourish there, perhaps a high step or a kick but still keeping to the basic form. We want creativity, but not too much.

  19. “As anyone who has lived with one knows, small children delight in hearing the same story over and over and over an … And they will complain if any of it varies from prior tellings.”

    Yes… and no. My children grew up with three kinds of “bedtime stories”. The typical (OK, maybe not so typical, as we generally didn’t read glurge to them) children’s books, sure, although the collection our kids were “read into” were not… normal (see the “no glurge” above). Bible stories and poetry, yep (KJV, too; its richer language really does sit well on the ear). And… Dad would just sit and make crap up. And “Dad’s crap” was never the same twice. Sometimes it was just a nonsense song we’d sing–and “write”–together, getting sillier and sillier as things went (“Three Blind Mice” was never… normal in our house). Sometimes, a familiar story in a well-read book would take an unexpected turn and we’d discover new adventures for old friends.

    Nope. Our kids never complained about stories varying or not being the same over and over and over again, and given their reading interests as adults, I doubt their children will grow up wanting the same old same old ad nauseum. Hmmm… Maybe drilling creativity out of people starts earlier than I had thought, long before young minds are incarcerated in “public schools” (A/K/A “prisons for kids).

  20. In regards to Creativity – bullshit!

    The joys of growing up on a farm. I know bullshit. I’ve shovelled enough of it. But on this I’m going to call you wrong.

    Humans are all creative. The problem is that different people think in different ways.

    1) Auditory
    2) Visual
    3) Odor/Taste
    4) Feeling

    Those aren’t quite the right words, but I have a headache, and can’t think straight right now (anyone else would call what I have a hangover – problem is I don’t drink).

    By Auditory, I mean that some people respond better to creativity that is “sound” based, whether they hear things differently, or they sing. I know a lot of people in the lower end of the music industry, and a lot of them couldn’t write a coherent sentence, but musically they are incredibly creative.

    It is the same thing with Visual creativity. There are people who can come up with incredible video works. In some cases you look at what they did, and it looks so simple, until you try it, and fail spectacularly.

    Odor/Taste can be related to cooking, or perfume. Again, it’s a different way of thinking. I’m not much of a cook, but I can appreciate the creativity that goes into cooking. In fact I appreciate it too much!

    Feeling is not the right word, but I couldn’t come up with anything better. I’m trying to cover sculpture, fabric, etc., i.e. anything tactile. Again it involves thinking in a different manner. When my sister-in-law was taking art at York University, she had to produce several sculptures, something she’d never done before (she’s a painter). It stretched her mind – and made her a better painter, as she learned more about texture.

    My point is that there’s more than one type of creativity. Just because you can’t write worth a damn, doesn’t mean you can’t be creative.

    As to the newer ways of teaching the English language, quite frankly they suck. But so did the old ways. I know a person under the old system, who in Grade 5 was tested as having First Year University reading level, but Grade 2 writing level. The new system isn’t any better. Both suck big time in my not so humble opinion.

    I don’t have a clue what the solution is. I’m not sure that there is one. People who really want to write, generally have to teach themselves, but that has always been true.


    1. I call bullshit on your bullshit.

      There is a difference between creativity in a field and merely being good at that field. The cook who comes up with new recipes is creative. The one who follows existing recipes very well is good at it.

      The artist is creative. The painter who follows the artist’s instructions is talented.

      Unless you plan to redefine “creative” to mean “skilled” or “talented” – in which case you demean creativity in the sense of the act of creating something that did not exist before you got there and did your thing with it – there are a relatively small number of people who have it. Why this is the case is up for argument: I don’t pretend to know.

      You’re trying to make everyone special – which in the end means no-one can be special.

      1. I call bullshit on your bullshit. There is a difference between creativity in a field and merely being good at that field. The cook who comes up with new recipes is creative. The one who follows existing recipes very well is good at it. The artist is creative. The painter who follows the artist’s instructions is talented. Unless you plan to redefine “creative” to mean “skilled” or “talented” – in which case you demean creativity in the sense of the act of creating something that did not exist before you got there and did your thing with it – there are a relatively small number of people who have it. Why this is the case is up for argument: I don’t pretend to know. You’re trying to make everyone special – which in the end means no-one can be special.

        And you think I don’t know the difference between “being good” and “being creative?”

        There are a lot more talented and creative people than you seem willing to admit. A lot of them are creative in ways that you might not be interested in, i.e. like my grade school friend who builds custom farm tractors. It’s a weird hobby, but he has built some really neat stuff, and he has a talent.

        Sure, there are a lot of people who can’t write very well, and there are a lot of people who aren’t good at water painting, etc. That doesn’t mean they can’t be creative in other ways.


        1. You’re conflating “talented” with “creative”. They are not the same. The ability to produce something different be it food, art, mechanics, whatever, is rare. The ability to riff on a theme and do it extremely well is uncommon, but not rare.

          The difference: there are any number of supremely talented musicians out there, in all forms of music. There are far, far fewer composers.

    2. OMG, Wayne, what planet are you living on. Sorry, but not everyone in this world is creative. I don’t care how you define it. There are jacks of all trades who are talented in a number of different fields but couldn’t create anything if their lives depended on it. As Kate said, you can be talented — or you can figure out how to follow directions — but that doesn’t make you creative.

  21. 6th grade, 10 years old. Read all class books the day you get them (a big two books/year). Always bring at least 3 books to school each day, to make it thru the day (mostly SF). Minimum: 10 books/week. By 7th grade I had reached a deal with the teachers — I wouldn’t disrupt the class with embarrassing smartass questions, I would continue to ace everything, and they would let me read in class as much as I wanted to. It was the only way I survived to college.

    I mean I appreciate that they let me read and double up on classes until they ran out of them, but what a waste of time.

    Sound familiar?

    1. One of the things that contributed to the decision to home educate: The Daughter’s history teacher asked that we teach her to hide her outside reading inside her text book, because not everyone could manage as well as she.

      One a side note: I appreciated that teacher. She handled The Daughter very well when The Daughter announced that the new history text was wrong: it is no longer Czechoslovakia but the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The teacher used it as an opportunity to discuss both the changing face of Europe and the time it takes to develop and distribute textbooks.

  22. “It was an enchanted maiden story [per instructions] and that has limits) and the teacher agreed that word choice, coherence and detail were beyond an 11 year old. SO I MUST have copied it.”

    Heh. In first grade we were asked to bring Our Favorite Books in to read to class. (Doctor Seuss was in heavy rotation, to the extent that anyone brought in anything at all.) When it was my turn I brought in a Tom Swift book, and started regaling my classmates with the wonderful adventures of the Flying Lab, the Ultrasonic Cycloplane, the “Challenger”, and so on.

    The teacher stopped me after a few minutes and sent home a note. Years later, my mother told me that the note accused me of making things up and “pretending” that I could read, and that if I kept doing it I’d probably have to go to a special “delayed learners” group.

    1. The year I was in first grade, one of the second-grade teachers was having medical problems and was out a lot. When there was nobody to fill in for her, my teacher would send me next door with a book to read to the class to keep them quiet.

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