Scott the Reader recently replied to Fun Joel's scribosphere questionnaire with another, a suggestion to list a favorite line of dialogue that you've written.
Here's one of mine:
(Holding up index finger) "I can count on one finger the number of conversations I've had with them since I moved out. And it's not this finger."
Clever, I think. I think it's clever enough that I'm starting to wonder if I may not have written it, but that I picked it up somewhere, unwittingly internalized it, and spat it back out again as my own.
It should be noted that I'm paranoid.
But I fear this because it's happened once before, in rehearsal for one of my plays.
DIRECTOR: You know that's a line from SIXTEEN CANDLES.
ME: What? Where?
The director describes the scene. I remember it.
ME: Well, shit.
Writers, especially screenwriters who are by their very nature media hounds, are all about synthesizing their experience of the world, absorbing and combining bits and pieces of what they see and hear and learn and feeding that into what they create.
From KING KONG to SHREK to SCRUBS, which recently contained a throwaway DEADWOOD reference, conscious quotations and homages both verbal and visual are on the rise. Also, too, are the unconscious ones, as the creators of these texts (Warning! Warning! Literary criticism term off the port bow!) exhibit through their work more and more of the media and information saturation that's part of our modern lives.
Is this a problem? Maybe. I don't think any of us look forward to the day when a TV show or movie is nothing but lazy quotes of stuff that came before.
Pause for laughter.
Yeah, that's already happened, lots of times. So let's buck the trend.
Examining your work with a critical eye helps. So does making sure you're feeding your brain with books and music and art and nature and current events and travel in addition to what can be TiVo'd. But synthesized observation is part and parcel of what it means to be a creative person.
Of course, there's a point at which "synthesized observation" becomes "plagiarism." Anyone, um, recognize that finger line?