We’ve derived

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

All fiction is derivative

It’s amazing that we as authors can seem to come up with anything original when everything has been done before. After all, there are allegedly only seven stories in all the world, and all the novels, films, short stories, and graphic novels we write are just extensions of these archetypes.

Of course, we writers prefer to think that we are totally original. We’re creative people, after all. We create.

But the truth is, we derive.

COPOUT is a sprawling story of a man’s journey into the abyss of his own darkness, and through the dreamscape of his own mind, toward redemption and healing. He finishes the story with less than he started, but more at the same time.

From the very start of writing COPOUT, I expected that it would be compared to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber. Yes, there are similarities. Walter Mitty escapes his depressing world by way of his fantasy world. There are differences though. Mitty’s dreams and fantasies are daydreams. Donovan Stone’s are night-time dreams. Mitty escapes his boring humdrum life with his fantasies of being someone special—Mitty’s life is normal, and normality is what he seeks to escape. Stone escapes his extremely eventful and dark life by enjoying dreams which are even more eventful. Walter Mitty is basically a nice person who allows himself to be put upon. Stone is a sarcastic SOB who wants very little to do with the world and anyone in it.

The dream scenes, those of Walter Mitty’s daydreams and Donovan Stone’s night dreams, are extremely derivative, knowingly and joyfully playing off of established tropes. Donovan Stone takes his turns as an Old West gunfighter, a knight in shining armour, a World War II lieutenant, a gumshoe, a spy, and an interstellar adventurer. Walter Mitty takes his turns as a riverboat gambler, ladies fashion designer, a surgeon, and an RAF commander, always at the top of his game and admired by all around him.

The character of Donovan Stone also has influences elsewhere. In my mind’s eye I picture him as Avon from the BBC TV series Blake’s Seven. He has a lot in common with Avon, not least his disregard for the feelings of, and his contempt of, the people around him.

There are other influences that inform my writing, as there are with every writer, some of which will be subconscious and of which I am unaware. But then, let’s face it, our lives are derivative. As Solomon wrote, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.” (Ecclesiates 1:9–10) We may think we’re doing something original, but, it’s all been done before. We just don’t know about it, because our sphere of experience is so small and our lives so short.

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