A Handy Guide on What You Should Steal (And What You Shouldn’t)

Well said, Picasso. Yo momma once said, “if you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the pope.” So I guess you instead decided to become a painter, and as a result became Picasso. Brilliant stuff. In this case, you may have some idea of what you’re talking about (litotes).

Unless you’re some super mega-genius who one-shots all your intellectual opponent, you may be left in the dark as to the meaning of this saying. But I, your all-powerful overlord of writing and the purveyor of all things holy, meaningful, and tasty, have discerned the artist’s true meaning.

There are two kinds of replication: replication of process and replication of product. To help you understand what that means, I’ll use an analogy: in the video game market currently, Battle Royale modes are the big trend. It used to be Loot Boxes before this, but now every company is scrambling to make a 100-player BR mode in their FPS game.

Why? Simple: Fortnite remains one of the biggest companies on the market, and were one of the first to make BRs popular. Everyone’s after that Fortnite cash, and so companies are trying to replicate the same results. However, no company has really succeeded in being the “Fortnite-killer” they all wanted to be. Battlefield and Apex Legends were really popular for a season, but Fortnite remains on top. Heck, even CoD Warzone took a swing at Fortnite’s audience, and with some relative success, but few companies have been able to generate the hype that Fortnite has.

What am I trying to say? Well, there’s a difference between borrowing a BR mode and stealing it. I’m not talking about ripping Fortnite off, I’m talking about capturing the essence of what makes the BR fun. It’s not just that it has a 100-player winner-take-all BR mode, because others have tried that and failed. Those who borrowed, failed. Those who stole, replicated the formula for success.

It’s a bit like trying to recreate a cake by dissecting a slice of your mom’s instead of taking a peek at the recipe. Looking at Fortnite, you see that BRs are insanely popular. Any reasonable person might conclude that adding a BR mode to their new FPS game is a a surefire way to create success. But once it does, it just turns out to be Modern Warfare 1’s Warzone 1.0, and in so doing fails to steal the audience.

There’s a reason why Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, and Starcraft can exist distinctly from one another despite sharing a plethora of very obvious universe similarities. There’s a reason why many franchises over the years have tried to recreate some of that space magic stuff, and we ended up with Flash Gordon and Starship Troopers, and while cult classics, these films hardly reach the level of cultural fame of the four universes I just listed.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, and Starcraft have the same “soul”, if you will. Halo and Starcraft stole from Star Trek and Star Wars, and were able to replicate their success wildly despite basically being variations of the same universe. Those that try to replicate their success and failed did so because they borrowed, not stole.

In essence, stealing something isn’t just replicating results, it’s replicating the thing behind the results. It involves knowing the formula. That’s what Picasso was saying: it’s not enough to steal the cake. You have to steal the recipe.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an article written by Van Ghalta if I didn’t give you some practical advice, so I would simply suggest that you spend more time around whatever it is you want to steal. See if you can capture the original Form, the soul which gave shape to the story. If you can capture the form of a successful franchise and execute it well, you’ve got a recipe for success on your hands.

That’s all.


Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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