Monday, June 30, 2014

Why I Ain't Even Mad at John Green

Today I saw this BuzzFeed post, which essentially implies that John Green’s “Okay? Okay.” was stolen from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

At first I was all like…


Because John Green is basically the god of YA authors. And plagiarism? Not cool.

But it only took about 0.4 seconds for me to change my tune.

I ain’t even mad at John Green.

Reason #1: “Okay” is a pretty common word. Have you thought about how many times you say it per day? (If you haven’t, you will today. You’re welcome.) It could be pure coincidence.

Reason #2: Eternal Sunshine… came out in 2004. From what I can tell, John Green came up with the idea for TFIOS in 2006. So is there a possibility that he saw the movie, unintentionally filed the “Okay?” tidbit in some back corner of his brain, and accidentally retrieved it while writing 2+ years later?

Yes. Absolutely.

How do I know? I’ve done the same thing.

See, I’m pretty particular about my characters’ names. I have to love them. And for whatever reason, I couldn’t come up with a name for the main character in my WIP. I tried out several, but none of them felt right.

Then one morning, it came to me. The perfect name: Skylar. Sky for short.

I slapped the name on top of my character worksheet in Scrivener, and started writing.

This perfect-name honeymoon lasted for about a week. Then I realized. The name Skylar?

Already been used.

By one of my friends.

In a book that I beta read.

A book that has the word “Sky” in the title.

A book that I loved.

Even though I’d only read the manuscript 16 months prior, and had talked about the book a ton since then, when it came to my WIP, I honestly did not make the connection to Blackfin Sky. It took a tweet from someone about the book for my “duh” moment to happen.

Maybe this is just John Green is having his own “duh” moment.

Everything we read, see on the screen, and hear on the radio becomes part of us. Maybe it’s a big part that we remember constantly. Maybe it’s a part so tiny we don’t remember it ever again. But maybe there’s a middle ground. Maybe there’s a part small enough that we forget about it for a while, but big enough to make a reappearance. Even years later. Even if we don’t realize it.

There’s a theory that there are no new stories, only new ways to tell them. That there’s a finite group of “things” that can be mashed together in different and beautiful ways, but can never increase in number. Maybe one of those “things” is a character name. Maybe one is “Okay? Okay.”

You know what? I bet Eternal Sunshine… has it’s own “thing.” Because its creators have read books and seen movies and listened to songs that became part of them, too.

Yes, plagiarism is wrong. But I’m proof that “duh” moments happen.

So I ain’t even mad at John Green.

I’m just short one main character name…


  1. Most of what we learn is from mimicking what others do. It's not surprising that we end up with phrases or names from other people in our "original" works.

  2. Ha! I would totally have forgiven you too ;)