In English class, we’re currently reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The novel’s plot revolves around the death of a man named Santiago Nasar, and how nobody in his town did anything to prevent his demise, even though they all knew it was going to happen and had a multitude of chances to stop it. One of the book’s primary messages concerns the bystander effect, which is a psychological condition that is described by Wikipedia as:
A phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present.
This strikes me as quite funny, because I wrote a novel1 just last fall for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and any guesses on what it was about? That’s right, the bystander effect. I know its sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true. In fact, I named the damn thing itself Passerby Empire. Passerby…bystander…get it? And Empire refers to the world, and how widespread the condition is within the society in my book.
Chronicle was published 1981. I wrote Passerby Empire in 2013. Nonetheless, I vehemently maintain that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has stolen my novel idea. Not only that, but he won a Nobel Prize in Literature for it. I was that close to a Nobel Prize, people! Put that on my gravestone.
In all seriousness, though, I just had to write a post about this because it was too odd of an event for me to pass by (ha). I guess the point to prove here is that ideas, especially book ideas, are often more universal than one may think. Pretty much any author, whether professional, hobbyist, or amateur, has probably had this whole “novel idea stolen” experience before. It may be frustrating, and also existentially perplexing (which then naturally leads to wild conspiracy theories, such as the one I currently stand by that asserts that Marquez waited 70 years for me to be born so he could swindle my greatest artistic thought from my mind-spirit as I lay in the crib, then used a time machine to travel back roughly two decades back into the past to publish the idea into a book, entirely written in Spanish), but ultimately, I believe it’s something all creative individuals must learn to live with.
Besides, ideas are best when they’re not copyrighted. Hoarding character inspirations or plot twists to yourself doesn’t actually help make you any better of a writer, nor does it make those ideas any better than they would be if they were freely discussed and maybe even shared. I’m not speaking out of direct personal experience, but I do believe this statement is true because it matches a fundamental truth that I have observed in my own life–the self-truth that jealousy, anger, and suspicion always work the opposite way than they are intended, and that none of those negative emotions brings any benefit whatsoever to the person who harbors them.
There’s also the issue of magnitude to consider. I mean, if I’m mad that my “bystander effect” idea was stolen and therefore forever invalidated from any possible future publication, significance, or Nobel Prizes, what about all those other poor souls in history that had their ideas snatched and/or miscredited? What about all the unrecognized sidekicks in the world, the Engelses of the Marxs, the Franklins (and, arguably, Wilkinses) of the Cricks and Watsons? And did you know that Darwin wasn’t the first to propose the theory of evolution, or that Einstein wasn’t the guy who discovered E=MC^2? Even that Greek philosopher Pythagoras wasn’t the original one to get to the Pythagorean Theorum.
Thus, I feel inclined to let my distress about my idea being stolen go, and simply lay the whole incident to rest. But first, a special shoutout to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I got my eye on you, old man. My next NaNoWriMo novel better not make an appearance as another one of your famous 20th century prize-winning books when I sit down to write it this November…
1 = please forgive the pretentiousness that seeps from the webpage when I refer to the 50,000-word piece of disoriented nonsense I wrote as a “novel”. If there were some other word that had the same meaning, sans the arrogance, I’d use it.