We absorb the influences around us. Compiling the positives and the negatives based on our senses, our logic, and our imagination. Perhaps as writers, we absorb even more than most people. We pick up those innuendos and subtleties others may miss. Movies, music, books, TV, internet, and even dreams all contribute to what we think of as our “original” ideas. Combining all that input can definitely create some innovative thinking.
Let’s talk about PLAGIARISM. Definition of PLAGIARIZE (Merriam Webster Dictionary): to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
We all know there are unscrupulous people, who plagiarize writers to profit from their work. In my opinion, they should be reported, arrested, and probably shot. I don’t want to talk about that.
I want to talk about another form of plagiarism, and direct my comments towards the writers who unwittingly (I hope) plagiarize stories from other writing sources and even other media.
It’s 6:45 am and I hit the Tassimo, before I even shower. I switch on the TV and, after sorting through the dozens of Sunday morning infomercials, I land on an obscure channel running an obscure animal show. I decide it’s the perfect TV fluff to fill the time and wake up my sleepy brain, while I sit back, and drink my coffee. I wasn’t ready for what I saw. The show mirrored exactly a story I was asked to critique a couple years ago.
The plot was identical except for names and location. I checked the date of the show and realized it had aired about a year before the supposed “original” short story arrived on my desk. Watching the show, or hearing about it from someone else, may have given the writer the story concept. Whether by choice or unwittingly, this story was definitely plagiarism.
Did you ever read a book and about halfway you start to realize you know this story? Where you read it or saw it, escapes your memory, but you know what’s going to happen. The plot becomes predictable and the characters’ reactions obvious. It’s quite upsetting, but I‘m sure I’m not the only person who has been disappointed by an author in this same way. Original stories are sometimes hard to find.
When I was still working full-time and raising a family, I looked for well-written books I could read in short spurts over lunch or break; easy books to read, requiring only minimal effort to keep up with the story. Often Nora Roberts was one of my go-to writers. She wrote romance and although her plot lines were always very similar, she added enough twists, turns, and paranormal or strange characters, to keep things interesting. I know I could never write an original romance after reading so many of her books.
When we are developing a story, we need to be cautious. It is very easy to borrow from other sources. As the writer, we can take an overused idea and add details based on our own experience, familiarity, and perception. There is certainly nothing wrong with that approach. However, regurgitating an entire story from an outside source, as if it is our own idea, may be easy, even second nature to some, but is definitely plagiarism.
These are questions we need to ask, and answer, before we start that new story. Are we taking a concept we’ve seen or read elsewhere and using it as the plot for that new book? <> <> <> Are our thoughts truly original ideas? <> <> <> Are the concepts tweaked sufficiently to stand on their own as new and original? We would all be furious if someone took our ideas for their own. Be a professional and make your work unique and new.
I definitely think we can formulate our own new ideas; concepts never tried before. I know we can develop these exciting plots, and compete for top billing on the bestsellers’ lists.