Friday, May 13, 2011

Stealing from the best

Have we all heard this saying: "Steal from the best"?

There's nothing new under the sun, in storytelling, there's only new arrangements of old ideas. So steal from those who did it best. Steal from the masters of your genre. Steal from the masters of another genre.

Here's a little twist: steal from the masters in real life.

I'm coming up on a scene where one of my MCs (Maggie, for those of you who've read her character development posts) has to give an inspirational speech. Unfortunately, it's not my style to do something like say: "And then she gave a stirring speech that had the audience on their feet and cheering." I've been trying to avoid summarizing things -- if I'm not going to spell it out for the reader, I'll skip the scene entirely and mention the outcome later. For things like hand-to-hand combat, this means going pretty much blow by blow. Which is its own can of worms, as writers know, but it can be done and you don't have to be a fighter to do it.

Inspirational speeches, though? How do you fake that? By stealing from the best.

I looked up Patrick Henry's famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech and I'm plugging in details that are appropriate to the story. Also shortening it a bit for the modern attention span. And suddenly I'm not worried about how many speeches Maggie might have to give because think of all the famous ones out there -- MLK's "I have a dream," Reagan's "Tear down this wall," Kennedy's "Ask not." Plus all the speeches Shakespeare wrote.

What have you stolen from real life?

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