I don't know about people from other backgrounds, as I only ever hear this phrase in a specific context, but the phrase "cherry-picking" has a rather negative connotation. It means simply the practice of choosing only the items, opportunities, or concepts that are most beneficial to you personally.

So an example of cherry-picking might be the child who chooses only the red Skittles, or the businessman that only accepts deals that will net him a $10k+ profit. It's not an inherently bad thing, and yet as I've heard it used, it's more associated with the selection of small parts of a larger whole that are beneficial only when taken out of context. An example of that might be opening a gift basket and only taking the gift cards, or adopting specific concepts from a religious practice without regard for the rest of that belief system.

But there's at least one situation where I believe cherry-picking is not only positive, but something I would personally recommend.

That's in drawing inspiration from other works of fiction.

We've all read at least one book wherein you can identify the source of several foundational elements, not because it's such an inspiring use of the element but rather because it's a direct rip-off of a well-known piece of fiction. I'm looking at you, Eragon.

In order to avoid Copy/Paste Syndrome there are a couple different standards that have been given me over my years writing fanfiction. (Don't judge. They give good feedback, alright?)

1. Use many sources.

It's much easier to identify "Beauty and the Beast in space" than it is to identify "Dune meets the Brady Bunch with a dash of The Hobbit and a sprinkling of Star Wars, only the main character is a dragonborn alien." Not a great elevator pitch, but certainly an interesting story idea.

2. Try not to recreate defining traits, characteristics, or setpieces.

I don't know anyone that doesn't love the idea of telepathic dragons that form permanent bonds with their Riders. That said, if instead of making Dragonriders of Pern only with wild dragons I asked "what if dragons couldn't use words?" or "what if a dragon needed to form a new bond when their previous Rider died?" then I'd have something that feels more like an inspiration than a copy/paste application of someone else's idea.

3. Don't make statements - ask questions. ("What if-?")

A laundry list of plot elements does not an engaging story make. It's much more interesting (for the author as well as the reader) when the narrative is answering a question. Usually those questions start with the two words "what if," and I think they may be my favorites out of the whole English language, because they lead me to so many interesting places.

4. Just because it happened that way in the source material doesn't mean it has to do the same in your story.

This is along the same lines as not reproducing elements from the story you liked. You'll want to ask those what if questions or, if you've already applied changes to other elements in your story, "if-then" questions.

If the main character is actually a dog in a human body, then how would she react to xyz?

I hope that helps with your cherry-picking endeavors. :) Now, I'm off to write some silliness of my own.

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