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Novel Thoughts About Calling ‘Dibs’

Are some ideas ruined by being publicized? That’s a worry of mine. Take ideas for novels or movies. Here’s one idea: a futuristic geo-political legal thriller in which the world sues America for — take your pick — military adventures, resource monopolizing, global warming, bad taste, government destabilization, dastardly business practices, or all of the above. There, the cat’s out of the bag. (Sort of. Still pretty vague. But play along.) Now who’d ever write it, knowing someone else could steal the idea, too, and beat you to punch?

Possible solution No. 1: I could keep the idea vague, withholding key parts (as above) so thieves (I used this term jocularly, of course) are likely to run with it in all sorts of directions.

Possible solution No. 2: As in No. 1 above, but I withhold some key part that I’ll reveal to whoever sends me the most compelling email. For example, did I mention I have a killer title for the above book? I could say: Persuade me you’ll actually write the book, and you’ll be the one I tell. Have misgivings about this approach. Has a slimy, wheeler-dealer vibe. Even if I swear I’ll take no money, there’s always the temptation to be swayed by offers. And even if there’s no quid pro quo, folks will suspect there could be. Also, I’m getting a headache pondering this exclusionary, bureaucratic and arbitrary can of worms (said it was slimy): How could I fairly decide? Do I make the disclosure a limited-time offer? Am I putting myself on a legal hook over a stated or implied vow of secrecy? (“So, Mr. Mucha, how did Joe B come up with the exact same idea? And let me remind you are under oath.”) Which leads me to say, my title idea was Earth vs. The United States. OK, maybe “killer” was a bit exaggerated.

Possible solution No. 3: You call “dibs.” Yeah, why not? You simply attach a comment, saying “I call dibs!” When we were kids, and someone called “dibs,” on the jelly doughnut, say, or whatever, we totally honored his right to have it. Well, usually. OK, sometimes. Whatever. Same idea here. First, you’re warning folks that someone else is going to do this idea. That should discourage people. So would a short statement about your credentials, like you’ve had a few novels published before, or your desperate situation, like you’re a handicapped single mom who has to write holding a pen with her toes. I think it’s also important to keep renewing your dibs. Every few months or so, you come back and post how the project’s going. (And check if someone wants to contact you.) If a year lapses without a peep, well, sorry, now Joe C is claiming dibs. In the spirit of the code, of course, if you’re relinquishing your dibs, we’d appreciate your returning to let everyone know. Also, no more than one dibs at a time, please. Not going to abide any dibs whores, hoarding or ransoming ideas. Final disclaimer: You do understand this is an honor system that imposes no legal obligations upon anybody, right?

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