Discussion Post

Writer Beware: Inspired By vs. Plagiarism

When you read a book you love, there are several things that happen.

You find yourself utterly mesmerised by this new world. It is exciting, discovering something new for the first time. Most of us can remember the first time that we read a book that we adored; it’s akin to falling in love, the feeling of being swept away into something new and vibrant.

As well as the deep love for a new novel, you can often find yourself feeling inspired to write for yourself. Many of us take inspiration from something we love; a book that plays with words so magnificently that we want to try it for ourselves.

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Everyone has a story to tell, the book that they could write is buried within them. The right stimulation and inspiration can bring that springing forth, meaning you finish the last chapter of a beloved novel and immediately head for a keyboard to hone your own story. It’s one of the great things about great literature; it makes us more likely to want to find greatness in our own work.

And That Can Be A Problem

It’s often said that there are no original ideas anymore; that everyone is a copy of something else. The stories have been told, the worlds created, the conflicts and true loves have all been documented. All anything that the modern storyteller is doing is telling their own version of the same stories. Some plotlines and ways of creating fiction have even been dubbed with their own name, such as the “Hero’s Journey” method of creating a tale.

So if it’s true that we’re all just retelling the same stories in different ways, why would that be a problem? Why would it be an issue to find inspiration in a story you have loved, and write with that inspiration burning in your mind? Can there really be a potential issue with taking the feel, the excitement, the inspiration of one of your favorite books and using it to craft your own worlds?

There might be, because of plagiarism. That’s a scary word for any wannabe writer, so it’s worth delving a little deeper into it.

  1. Plagiarism Is A Difficult Subject

The dictionary definition of plagiarism is along the lines of: taking the work of someone else and passing them off as your own.

So, in some instances, that might be simple to detect. If, for example, you were to sit down and write a novel about a young boy who discovers he’s a wizard, goes to a remote school to learn magic, and then battles with a dark lord… that’s an obvious case of plagiarising the Harry Potter novels.

But what if you write a story about a magic school with a dark wizard who needs destroying? Is that plagiarism? After all, it’s just taking a basic setting and creating a “bad guy”. JK Rowling is not the first author to write about a magic school or battling forces of evil. So where’s the line?

The truth is… it’s difficult to detect. In the first example, it’s a legal, defined case of plagiarism. In the second, it could be argued it’s just taking inspiration.

  1. Be Wary Of Writing About Something Similar To A Book You Love

If you have just read a book set in Thailand that you love, then it’s probably a bad idea to write your own novel set in Thailand. Or, at least, be very aware of the fact you might fall into accidental plagiarism. It’s possible you’ll have picked up descriptors that you then use, without realising that you’re actually plagiarising.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write a book with a plot set in Thailand; if we all were banned from writing about settings in books we’d enjoyed, then we’d quickly run out of a world to write about! It just means you need to be very cautious.

  1. Credit Any Inspirations

A key definition of plagiarism is that you would be “passing the work off as your own”. It therefore makes sense, if you are concerned you might have been inspired by something to the point of accidental plagiarism (it does happen), that you give credit where it’s due. A note in the acknowledgement section to an existing book that you loved and inspired you will suffice.

Of course, this would not excuse taking an entire plot line or arc from another book and effectively writing the same thing again. That’s never okay, no matter how many disclaimers or accreditations you give. Be inspired by something, but never copy it – after all, your own work should be just that: your own.

*Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post*

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