If I sold you a plot, would you buy it?

Cover of "The Ringmaster's Daughter"

Cover of The Ringmaster’s Daughter

Recently I finished reading Jostein Gaarder’s The Ringmaster’s Daughter; it tells the story of a guy named Petter who has such an incredible imagination that writers would kill for. He can spout out three complete and elaborate plots in the span of an hour. However, Petter has no desire to become an author, but he is more than happy to sell his plots to those who are willing to pay a good price.

It was interesting to see the huge number of authors who succumbed in the face of an expertly woven plot that could be all their own for a certain price. As the story progressed Petter had become a sort of story dealer and authors came flocking to him whenever they had Writer’s Block or wanted to write a new bestseller, to the extent that it seemed that nobody came up with their own plots anymore. However, there were some authors who weren’t swayed by the temptation and refused to buy anything off Petter. On the contrary, they felt cheated. Here they were spending years of their lives perfecting a plot, while other authors were running about and winning awards for plots that did not even belong to them.

Now… I’m proud of my imagination. I have more story ideas and plots than I can count, and they’re always bouncing all over the place. Of course, it falls short before the greatness of Petter’s imagination. For example, I can’t come up with all the details of a plot in five minutes. And I certainly don’t spout more than two at the most per day, and definitely not every day. Would I be tempted if someone offered me a fantastic plot on a silver platter? I’d be lying if I said no. But would I actually take it and pretend it was mine? I don’t think I can live with the idea.

(Photo Credit: Paul Foreman)

The brilliance in writing a story is coming up with everything on your own. Sure, an excellent plot may win you a number of awards, but will the feeling of satisfaction be the same? If you think about it, this does not differ from having a ghost writer. You provide the ghost writer with a plot and he writes the story, but Petter provides you with a plot and you write the story. Different means, same end – you cannot truly call the book your own. This has made me wonder how many known authors out there rely on ghost writers or take their plots from other people. It’s something to think about.

Suppose someone like Petter approaches you and presents you with a gorgeous plot that you are sure will become the next bestseller, what would you do? Would you buy it? Would you show contempt? Most importantly, do you think that what he’s doing is wrong?

[This book would make a good read for authors, by the way. I do recommend you check it out.]

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20 thoughts on “If I sold you a plot, would you buy it?

  1. I love this blog entry! I’ve always wondered about these kind of things! I wouldn’t take on someone’s plot… I’d feel like it hadn’t been mine to start with! I’ll have to check out this book!

    • Exactly. If someone already laid out the whole plot for you… well, that just kills creativity altogether, and you’d only be filling in the blanks.

  2. I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure how detailed the plots are that he sells, but usually, one plot is capable of becoming two or three very different stories. I don’t think I’d buy a plot, simply because I don’t like wasting money on something I can do myself, but in a way, we all steal ideas from one another all the time and mix different stories and different influences to make something new out of it. So what, for example, if you bought two plots off Petter and then combined them somehow – would that be wrong or right?

    • Oh the plots are pretty detailed; each plot is covered to the tiniest detail in the span of several A4 sheets, sometimes 10 or 12. Sometimes the authors would tweak the plots a bit, but they end up being more or less what Petter intended them to be. So you see, it would have just been messy to combine two plots, because then you’re just tampering with the equilibrium of the plot itself. Influences, in this case, are completely different.

      • 🙂
        In that case, I don’t say it’s wrong as such (I see no moral value attached to buying or not buying a plot), but I totally agree that it would be deeply unsatisfactory to use a bought plot and I wouldn’t be able to regard it as my own work.

        • I don’t suppose there’s anything morally wrong there, but it does discredit the author, don’t you think? It would be bad publicity if word got out that the plot didn’t really belong to the author. And it’s indeed an interesting book!

  3. I’ve added this title to my book list. Can’t wait to read it. I’d like to believe I would turn down Petter’s offers but I am not sure that my willpower is that strong. If I did buy a story I’d probably feel guilty after I achieved fame.

    • I hope you enjoy reading it! The thing about Petter is that he’s charming and persuasive, which is why he managed to get so many people to buy his books. But yeah, I agree about the guilt thing.

  4. I don’t think I would buy a plot. Even if it’s the best plot possible, and even if I did end up buying it, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
    All the stories I write, and all the ideas I have, have a very personal connection to me. Sometimes it’s based on what’s happening in my life at the moment and sometimes it’s based on my past.
    Sure I could probably write a decent story to a plot I bought, but I won’t be in it. There would be no life to it.

    • I think I understand what you mean by the plot having no life in it. Interestingly enough, the people in the book who bought plots and didn’t know what to do with them accused Petter of cheating them, haha. Talk about being responsible for one’s actions.
      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Another book for my to-read list 🙂 I don’t know if I could write someone else’s complete plot. Without the emotional connection or passion for the story growing in your own imagination, wouldn’t it be boring? Ethically, if I bought someone else’s plot I’d want to list them as co-author.

    Thanks for commenting on my speculative blog and pointing me here. Great blog!

    • I suppose it would be, especially if you’re of the type who writes without doing any plotting. It certainly takes the excitement out of things!
      Thank you for your comment. =D

  6. I was discussing something like this with a coworker the other day. We were going over the old “if you could go back in time and talk to your past self what would you do?” question, and jokingly, I said I’d take back the manuscript to Hunger Games so that I could have it published before SC. But in reality, I would never do that, even if I could, because it would feel icky and cheating and I could never really be proud of it. (I would, however, take back the manuscripts I’ve worked on the last five years and give them to my teenaged self so I could get started on them a bit earlier and maybe get published before I’m middle aged) 😛

    • Haha, if only one could do that… the giving-the-manuscripts-to-your-teenage-self thing, not the stealing of the Hunger Games, because that would be bad. Very bad. xD

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