(guest post at http://www.csfg.org.au)
Some of the best advice I ever got as a writer was to “file off the serial numbers” from stories I admired and use what I’d got from them in my own work. This is, as it sounds, an exhortation to steal – shamelessly – but not, as the reader may immediately suspect, to plagiarise, nor even to be derivative.
It doesn’t mean that you should (or can rightfully) populate your stories with Ring Wraiths fighting with red lightsabres on behalf of the Klingon Empire in their war against the phaser-equipped Robocops who defend the nation of sparkly vampires. (Although, how awesome would that be? In a Sharknado kind of way, anyway.) Nor does it mean that, if you admire, say, a particular secondary-world fantasy that revolves around the feuding of great noble houses for control of the throne of the kingdom while winter is coming and also dragons, you should write a secondary-world fantasy that revolves around the feuding of great noble houses for control of the throne of the kingdom while winter is coming and also dragons.