Accidental Plagiarism

When I’m reading, I’m always a little bit afraid that I’ll end up plagiarizing. Where is the line between being inspired and stealing ideas?

Of course we can’t copy something word for word. That’s clearly plagiarism.

And of course we can’t write a story about a young magician who survives assassination at birth, comes away with a thunder scar, and heads to a live-away school to defeat a nemesis.

But we can read a line of poetry, hear a line of dialogue, see people interacting, read a story, read a book, and come away with our own ideas.

Statistically, there will be overlap. What people reads always informs what they write (that’s why the publishing market sees influxes of particular genres or subjects). Yet there is always the fear (sometimes paralyzing) that we are taking instead of reshaping.

How do we know what is ours and what is stolen?


9 thoughts on “Accidental Plagiarism

  1. Pingback: How to Be An Original Writer | words — and other things
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  3. Pingback: Inspired or Plagiarized? | words — and other things
  4. Everything is inspired by something, I think. It’s not exactly copying, but they give us good ideas and we can twist and turn those ideas however we want.

    • I once used the same name (first name) for a character as someone else had, and it wasn’t anything particularly unique or made-up, but the author in question felt a little cheated when I mentioned that I liked the name so much that I wanted to use it too. I guess there’s a finer line between flattery and perceived larceny. 😛

  5. can we know? i’m interested in how you frame your own epistemology for this question. i think it’s a real hard line to draw in the abstract – but there are laws – so somewhere lines have indeed been drawn…

    • And aside from consulting (or potentially breaking) a law, it’s interesting to think about what each person would consider as plagiarism. I mean, if I get an idea from a different body of work, do I owe some small part of my success to their original piece? And where’s the line between moral and legal?

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