When a band comes along that ‘sounds’ like another band – one that has preceded them by some years, it is generally regarded as acceptable; a knowing nod to those bands that have influenced and inspired that particular band. With no Beatles, there would be no Oasis, with no Black Sabbath there would be no Metallica and, well you get the drift. Did these bands sound a little like those that had inspired them? Absolutely. Did Oasis get criticised in their early days for sounding too much like Lennon and McCartney? Yes, one more than one occasion. Did Metallica use the template of hulking riffs pioneered by Sabbath’s Tony Iommi (among others) as a blueprint for how to construct a great heavy metal song? Yes, Sabbath’s impact on them is undeniable. Both Oasis and Metallica have gone on to inspire and influence many, many other bands that are active today and would not even exist if not for the aforementioned bands.
Yet when a writer draws on their influences, and sources that have inspired them, it sometimes ceases to be construed as a respectful homage to other films, television programmes, articles and the like and becomes something akin to plagiarism – a crime that many critics believe should be dealt with using the harshest punishment available! I’m sure many would have a writer who has used some ideas that have been used before in the dock, next to the latest soap start that has been arrested for god knows what, believing their crimes are on an equal footing.
Take a review I had for Playing The Game – the first of my detective thriller series featured Michael Patton of the LAPD (in itself a homage to one of the greatest, most versatile vocalists of modern times; Mike Patton from alternative band Faith No More). In Playing The Game, one of the characters has their toe cut off and the severed toe is then mailed to another character. Upon reading this, one reviewer accused me of ripping off a John Locke novel called Vegas Moon, as it apparently used a similar plot device. When I pointed out to the reviewer that I had in fact borrowed this from, for my money, the greatest Coen Brothers film of all time, The Big Lebowski – he hastily backtracked and apologised.Throughout the four books in the Playing The Game series, there are numerous plot devices that have been seen and done before. In Playing The Game, the captive being held in an underground coffin? See the CSI episode directed by Quentin Tarantino. In the same book, where Patton has a stare down with the main antagonist, before the antagonist flees – I remember recalling a scene between Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire. My second book, Viper Trail, features a rogue cop unit called the “Street Team” – a distinct homage to the best television series of all time, The Shield. And get this – when I messaged one of the principle actors in The Shield, Kenny Johnson, on Facebook and gave him the rundown of the plot he told me it was awesome!
Paying The Price, the third in the series, features a rooftop death that I wrote recalling Jimmy Beck’s death in the ITV series Cracker, and as for my fourth book, Locust? Well let me just say that if I hadn’t re-watched The Fugitive whilst I was writing it, then there would certainly be no train in the thrilling finale!
Would any of my readers put two and two together and pick up on any of these references (and there are many more throughout – The Sopranos, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs … even the underrated Michael Keaton film Pacific Heights )? Maybe, maybe not – but my point is this; to come up with something that has never been done before and is completely original is nigh on impossible. And I don’t think it’s really about using bits and pieces that you have seen or read and thought how good that would fit into one of your books. It’s about how you take those pieces and put them together to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Something that the reader can’t put down, even if you seem to be treading over well-worn ground.
Hell, even The Hunger Games can’t possibly be called original! Now, I don’t know if the author had seen Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, or Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man … but, well, if you have seen The Hunger Games and seen neither of the other two films (which predate Games by many, many years) then I would suggest you check both out and ask yourself two questions. Does Games bear too many similarities to these films to be considered co-incidental? But more importantly, does it really matter?
Now, if I can just find a way to work a throne, with seven different factions battling for control, into my latest book in the Playing The Game series, Gemini, I’ll be laughing. I’m sure that hasn’t been done yet …
If you fancy checking out the first book in the Playing The Game series, you can do so using the links below – it won’t even cost you a pound!