I wanted to discuses one of the touchier topics of writing: when does inspiration become plagiarism? Yikes. Plagiarism is such a scary word and has some heavy consequences. In some ways the word has been defined; in most ways it’s pretty vague, especially in the “stealing ideas” department.
In creative writing, plagiarism becomes a nightmare. Other stories inspire writers all the time. They’ll borrow ideas and “make it their own.” Sometimes, the inspiration is so clear readers can point it out; other times the story takes off on its own. Often authors get accused of being “inspired by” a story that didn’t inspire them at all. This tends to happen with popular series, and readers will accuse authors of borrowing/stealing ideas that aren’t really that unique.
Three of the worst offenders (remember this has nothing to do with the authors of these series) are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. Anybody notice how many books get accused of copy one of these? If a book has a magic school, the authors must be ripping off of Harry Potter (note: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888, was the first magic school I’ve heard of). If the book has a situation where kids must kill each other to escape something, the author must be copying The Hunger Games (note: Battle Royal did something similar before Suzanne Collins and before both came the Theseus myth, which is thousands of years old). And any sort of paranormal romance is obviously a Twilight knock off. Right?
As an author, such accusations can get annoying. Someone may have gotten an idea before ever hearing/reading it somewhere. Authors can also feel boxed in because of this, and they can fear adding certain elements to their story because others might accuse them of copying someone else.
Before I ever heard of Star Wars, I wanted to have a protagonist who ended up being the kid of the story’s “big bad”. After I finally watched Star Wars, I decided against doing that for years. I didn’t want to “steal” the idea, though I had a similar one years before seeing it there. Now I realize that idea isn’t particularly unique. Start Wars is just one of the most popular franchises to have utilized it.
Because I talk about what authors can do about this mess, it is important to remember the other side of this: people actually borrowing/stealing ideas from others. This happens all the time. Some believe every story is part of one great story that never really ends. Ideas are borrowed and re-shaped all the time. Usually, authors are pretty up-front about their inspiration, telling people what stories launched their own. But, a few times, you get people who basically re-write the book, which does feel like stealing or a fanfiction.
So, how do you navigate these tricky waters?
Well, for one, I wouldn’t let another story prevent you from adding something to your own. If you thought of the idea, that’s great. Don’t sweat it too much. You could always tell people if they asked. You could even blog about where that particular idea came to you. If you’re pulling an idea from a book you love, give the book credit. Let everyone know your book was, in fact, inspired by different book. Just make sure your story is your own. Don’t write a fanfiction with altered names. There are no black and white rules when it comes to this, so use your best judgment.
Lastly, don’t worry about getting accused too much. More than likely, it will happen. If you write a paranormal romance, people will say Twilight inspired you; write a dystopian and sudden The Hunger Games inspired you. On and on it goes.
For the record, a no specific books inspired Iron & Glass. A scene in a movie? Yes. A CD? The sound of it, yes. And sitting under a tree. That’s what started Iron & Glass. I already wrote about that, but forgot the CD parts. Opps.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Like I said, it’s a tricky one.