A writer on a forum recently asked about whether she should be concerned about stealing other writers' ideas. She expressed concern over beta reading for others, or even watching programs on TV or movies because she might inadvertently steal an idea and run with it. She thought that would be terrible. I can remember a time when I thought the same way. So, the question is: Should we be worried about other writer's stealing our ideas, or should we squirrel ourselves away in a vacuum until we have no ideas left?
The truth of the matter is that ideas are not tangible. They are free flowing and ever evolving. This is why they cannot be copyrighted, in fact. Two writers (or even 100 writers) could sit down in a room and one person could say, "I have a great idea! What if the main character in my book is a space-traveling werewolf who crash lands in Scotland, Planet Earth in the middle ages and falls in love with the daughter of the local Laird?"
You can be sure that, if every writer in the room ran with that idea, you would wind up with 100 very different stories.
There are so many unanswered questions! Why was the werewolf/alien traveling through space? Was he or she going somewhere really important so that the rest of the book centers on getting off the planet with new-love-interest in tow? Was the alien/werewolf on the run and perhaps was shot down by a nefarious enemy so that the rest of the book centers on the alien/werewolf/hero saving the human race, and new-love-interest, from certain demise at the hands of an evil empire or space alien vampires? You can probably count on a percentage of the stories including an element of time travel; perhaps the alien/werewolf is an Earthling after all, and his or her ship was damaged going through a worm hole into the past.
The point is that from a single idea, many, many other ideas grow and evolve. So what if you're reading a book and you are suddenly inspired by the thought, "I would have done this differently." Good! Sit at your writing station and start doing it differently.
What you can't do is copy the plot points form beginning to end and simply change the wording. You'd have to ask an attorney if that would actually be copyright infringement (particularly with romance novels where there is a tried and true "formula" of two characters meeting, falling in love, facing conflicts that will tear them apart and then finding a happily-ever-after.) However, copying identical plot points and "re-working" someone else's story is just plain bad form, no matter who you are, regardless of copyright laws around the world.
If we don't read in our genre, if we are not surrounding ourselves with the elements of our craft and the telling of really great stories -- if we exist in that self-imposed vacuum -- then our own creativity will dry up. When that happens, no idea will be good enough whether we think of it ourselves or not.
Let your inspiration reign!
Amazon Best Selling Author Marjorie Jones is an accomplished romance novelist and professional writer. Born in Rhode Island to a Naval Aviator and a proud Homemaker, she currently resides in Utah with her wife, Becky, and the last of their shared seven children; the twins, Thing One and Thing Squared. The others have all flown the coop.