Inspiration is a funny thing. It is a drug, a trick, a lie, a story you tell yourself. That doesn't mean you shouldn't act on your inspiration. It means you should have no illusions about it.
Consider the concept of the Original Idea. It doesn't exist.
You want proof? I'll give you proof.
In 1989, I was a (very) struggling aspiring screenwriter. I'd written a number of screenplays, gotten a little bit of encouragement--and when I say a little bit, I mean a LITTLE bit--and was plugging away, something I'd do for another 10 years before stumbling into the mystery book writing biz, but that's another story.
I had just finished putting the finishing touches on my latest opus, a broad farce and spy spoof called CAR TROUBLE, in which a Russian translator for the State Department is unlucky enough to find a murdered person in the trunk of her car, and I'm not telling you any more. Hey, if you're that interested, the rights are (strikingly) still available.
Suffice it to say this was not a script especially grounded in gritty dark reality. And at one point, a character is thrust into that hoariest of old thriller cliches--he is being pursued by the bad guys and the police, and ends up mistaken for the guest of honor at a public function, forced in front of an audience and expected to perform.
The twist at the time was that my character had bumbled his way onto the stage of a rap concert, assumed to be the star attraction. And he knows nothing about rap music other than the basics. So he stands there speechless for a while, the band gets nervous, the DJ is staring, and eventually, SOMETHING has to happen, so it does.
Now, at the time I thought that was the very definition of an original idea. I thought I'd hit the joke right on the nose, and if nothing else worked in that script, that joke was sure to kill. I thought it was certainly proof that I could do this comedy writing thing professionally.
Perhaps it was, but not in the way I anticipated.
I gave the script to my wife, as is my habit, and she read through it and told me the usual--"it's good." That doesn't tell a writer much. But she made a point of singling out the Beverly Hillbillies rap as the best thing in the script.
And then--I swear to you--less than a week after I finished my script, and maybe a day after I'd mailed it (man, those were the old days!) to my agent, who was based in the entertainment capital of the world, Pittsburgh PA (is there any wonder I didn't become Aaron Sorkin before Aaron Sorkin did?), this was broadcast on the ABC television network.(No copyright infringement intended.)
Jessica and I looked at each other and our jaws dropped open to the point that I, at least, resembled a snake about to snack on a baby elephant.
I have learned, since then, not to worry if someone else has an idea that might be considered similar to mine. Writing is about personality. Each writer brings his/her/its perspective to the work. That's the difference we offer. If it's strictly the plot material or the situation, trust me. It's been done before.
And if you don't think so, I will be happy to ask John Goodman to prove it to you. Oh, wait. He already has.