Coming up with a great idea is one of the hardest parts of the creative process. Of course, the process is infinitely easier if you don't mind "borrowing" (a phrase here meaning "straight-up lifting") a few ideas from other people.
As it turns out, tons of famous writers have circumvented the whole creative process thing by propping the literary Hondas of other authors up on cinder blocks and stripping them of all their best parts. There's a fair chance that some of your favorite books are shameless rip-offs of other, less fortunate authors who made the critical mistake of never becoming famous.
5William Shakespeare Straight-Up Stole Othello and Romeo and Juliet
Cracked loves William Shakespeare, and for good reason. The man's an innovator of the English language, a dirty jokester, and a man who enjoys feeding minor characters to bears. He also popularized the Michael Bolton haircut centuries before it was ruined by Michael Bolton.
National Portrait Gallery
And he rocked the hoop earring before Michael Jordan made it legit.
The Work He "Borrowed" From:
Let's start with Othello, which stands among the pinnacle works of Shakespeare's remarkable career. Chronicling the misadventures of a noble but fantastically naive Moorish captain of Venice, the play is a legendary tragedy of racism, distrust, jealousy, and betrayal. And, as if he were trying to live his life according to the themes of his famous play, Shakespeare stole the ever-loving shit out of it.
A little-known Italian novelist and poet named Giovanni Battista Giraldi, also known as Cinthio, wrote a short story in 1565 titled Un Capitano Moro, which historians have noticed shares certain elements with Shakespeare's Othello. Which elements, you ask? Oh, nothing major; just the plot, characters, certain names, setting, and moral. Cinthio's version of the story is so similar to Shakespeare's acclaimed play that we're surprised Shakespeare even bothered to change the title before ripping it right the fuck off.
"Eh, nobody's going to remember this Cinthio guy." -- William Shakespeare
This isn't exactly an isolated case of Shakespeare behaving like a college freshman struggling to piece together a last-minute term paper by hitting Ctrl V of entire sections of Wikipedia; Romeo and Juliet was noticeably "inspired" by a 1562 narrative poem called The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. While The Bard generally stuck to ancient historical or oral legends when researching his plays, Othello and Romeo and Juliet stand out for being fairly contemporary works that he adapted without citation. There's also the fact that they're two of his most successful tragedies, but that's surely just a coincidence.
The reason history doesn't know Shakespeare as the first serial plagiarist is that he wasn't technically doing anything wrong. Shakespeare started popping out his plays during the final decade of the 16th century, which predated the Statute of Anne in 1710 by over 100 years. The Statute of Anne was the first piece of legislation that granted intellectual property rights and protection to owners of creative works, which means that Shakespeare was pulling all his tragedy-stealing bullshit before the act was truly illegal. However, he still knew enough about stealing other people's work to not credit the original authors of Othello and Romeo and Juliet in any way. So, while Shakespeare wasn't technically guilty of plagiarism, he was still guilty of being an asshole.
4George Orwell Lifted the Plot of Nineteen Eighty-Four From an Obscure Russian Novel
Nineteen Eighty-Four is the famous dystopian novel by George Orwell that didn't feature talking pigs. A powerful and terrifying story of a totalitarian society watched over by the omnipresent Big Brother, its themes have influenced everything from TV shows to video games to irritating roommates who have never actually read the book but know to use the phrase "Big Brother" when referring to the Social Security deduction on their GameStop paycheck.
"No parking for lunch on Tuesday? This is literally what Orwell was warning us about."
It is arguably one of the most original pieces of fiction ever written, and has had no shortage of shameless imitators try to duplicate its thought-provoking themes over the years.
Yeah, about that ...
The Work He "Borrowed" From:
The central theme and many important plot points came from a little-known Russian author named Yevgeny Zamyatin. You could write it off as coincidence, but in 1946 (three years before Nineteen Eighty-Four was published) Orwell reviewed Zamyatin's novel We and raved about Zamyatin's grasp of contemporary politics and that of the dehumanized individual in modern society. Then he went on to use the shit out of said themes in his own book.
Still, it would be no big deal if it was just that We and Nineteen Eighty-Four were both scathing critiques of totalitarianism and collectivization -- that's a whole genre. But Orwell decided to go further with his "borrowing" of Zamyatin's work. We has a variation of "thoughtcrime" called "imagination", and a "Big Brother" called "The Benefactor." Both novels see the ruling class inflict a form of elaborate torture on potentially dangerous thinkers to "adjust" their temperaments. Both novels use a mathematical equation motif (2+2=5 in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the square root of -1 in We) to represent the incompatible logic of the protagonist and the fictional police-state. Both feature a downbeat ending that sees the protagonist declare his love for the evil administration.
The two books aren't 100 percent identical, but the important elements are all there. In Orwell's defense, his book is undeniably better, like Star Wars compared to all the movies George Lucas ripped off to put it together. What's more, it never really occurred to Orwell that his novel could ever change the literary world to the extent it did or, for that matter, at all. His correspondence hints that he treated Nineteen Eighty-Four as merely "a little squib" he happened to be writing, fully knowing and accepting that it was blatantly "not O.K. politically" and might never see the light of day at all. Basically, he was just writing some We fan fiction that somehow got turned into a huge industry. Sort of like 50 Shades of Grey.