I like to write and am a frequent user on writers.stackexchange.com. Many questions there and in other writing or art related communities ask a variation of:

I want to use the setting / characters / names / story of this or that work of fiction to create my own. May I legally do so?

While books and movies inspire the want to be creative in me, I have never felt inclined to use the world or characters or plot of another for my own narratives or create fan fiction. When I read a question like the one quoted above, I always think: "Why don't you just invent your own world, characters, and story? Don't you have a story inside you that needs to be told ?!?"

Reading those kind of questions makes me wonder what the difference is between creators of derivative works and creators of orginal art.

Sure, everyone is inspired by what they read in books or see in movies, and no one comes up with a tale to tell from a vacuum. Wanting to tell a story you have made up is not per se superior to wanting to tell a (variation of a) story you have read, and many derivative works are better written and more entertaining than their originals. Nevertheless I somehow feel that there is a difference – in motivation, goals, maybe personality.

You could, for example, conceive of creativity as a continuum from the purely derivative to the purely original, with different creators having more or less original ideas. This is a common concept, and we generally admire original creators more, because we feel they have more creative "genius".

Or you could take another common perspective and understand artists as being more or less mentally disordered, and originality being a result of the intensity of the artist's depression, schizophrenia or borderline personality, and art being an "outlet" or a method of self-reflection or some other way for them to deal with their dysfunction.

There are other ways to interpret the difference. Looking at myself, for example, no matter if my inspiration was life or art, what made me want to write (or make movies or draw) was always a feeling of lack: that something was missing from the story I read, that something about how the story was told left me unsatisfied, because, no matter how touching, that story was never truly about me, never completely told of what concerned me. I don't know how you would characterize this type of motivation to create. Maybe I'm so self-absorbed and egocentric that I cannot care about the creations of others, while those wanting to contribute to another's invention are more socially competent, more collaboratively inclined, even more warm and caring.

What is the difference – in ability or personality – between creators of derivative works and those inventing their own new worlds and characters and stories?

Is there anything in the research on creativity that could explain this difference?


closed as primarily opinion-based by Christian Hummeluhr, user7759, Arnon Weinberg, Josh de Leeuw, AliceD May 10 '15 at 5:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ How can you be sure this isn't just fundamental attribution error on your part, or something along those lines? $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr May 6 '15 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ You have a lot of implicit information about your own works, and relatively little information about others' work beyond what they present and what you subjectively infer from that. How do you know the perceived difference isn't simply an artifact of that information asymmetry? $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr May 6 '15 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ The same question applies to the process, though. You have your entire memory of yourself and compare it to maybe one or two instances from the other. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr May 6 '15 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what kind of response you expect from me. As I said, I'm happy to discuss the question here or in chat. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr May 9 '15 at 13:54