Blog Chain: Inspired Idea or Plagiarism?

BLOG CHAINIt’s Blog Chain time again.  This time Annie asked the question: 

Do you ever get inspired by a real-life event or news story and fear you’re ripping off the story too much? Do you ever get inspired by a song or poem or line from a book and worry you’re stealing that original person’s idea? What if your research is overtaking your originality?

I am inspired by the world around me all of the time.  My first trilogy was inspired by a dream I had and the real-life accounts of enlightenment I had read about.  The current WiP is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet…but with many interesting twists and turns.  Lyrics have provided the springboard for several of my short stories.

But finding inspiration from real life sources in and of itself is not a bad thing.  In fact, I think most authors use real life events for inspiration. 

The problems comes in whether or not your idea actually replicates another…plagiarizes it.  Obviously that can’t be done.

When I worked as a buyer for a major department store, one of my responsibilities was assisting in the design of our private label clothing.  We constantly had to walk the fine line between developing clothing that was similar –  but not too similar – to the fast selling clothing of our competitors and major label manufacturers.  Our corporate lawyers explained to us that we needed to look both at the differences and the similarities between the designs.  

Sometimes it helps to look at the definitions of plagiarism and copywrite infringement:

Plagiarism, is defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, as the “use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

Copyright infringement as defined by Wikipedia,  is “the unauthorized use of material that is covered by copyright law, in a manner that violates one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works”.

Both concepts need to be kept in mind.  But, as many others have already said, ideas are not copywritten.  Words can be.  And it is important to not just look at words…but the scenes and set-ups as well.  

So how do we make sure we do not plagiarize someone else’s work.  As I have said about many other things, authenticity is the key.  If we are authentic to our own view of the story, it becomes very difficult to replicate another person’s story.  The premise may be similar – but the execution will be very different.

The last part of her question dealt with research and originality.  I have not had the experience of research usurping my originality.  In fact, I have actually had the opposite effect.  In my current WiP, I conducted a lot of research.  What I discovered was new and unique twists to my story that made it better.  Again, authenticity played a part…I stayed true to the unique characters in MY story.  As a result, the research did not hurt the storyline.  It helped.

What about you guys?  How would you answer the question?

Hop over to Kat to see what she said yesterday, and Michelle to see what she says on Wednesday.

11 thoughts on “Blog Chain: Inspired Idea or Plagiarism?

  1. thanks for the definitions, it does help to know what those things actually mean. And I completely agree, if we are true to our own stories, I think it is hard to plagiarize someone else’s stuff.

  2. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. You said the magic word of the day: Usurping.

    Sorry. For some reason, I love that word. I don’t know why. It’s just one of those words. It sounds so . . . I don’t know.

    Anyway you’re right on about authenticity. Write from the heart and you’ll never go wrong.

    Love the new look, BTW.

  3. I love the new blog look as well! What a great post! You had nothing to worry about. I, on the otherhand, can’t think of a thing to write and may have to plagarize other people’s blogs. Hee. Just kidding!

  4. Okay, I tried to leave a comment earlier and the dialogue box said “duplicate comment – you already said that”. Apparently, I plagarized myself. Sheesh.
    Great post and love the new look of your blog. Gorgeous.

  5. Great definitions – it’s always great to know those things!

    I also love how you bring it back to authenticity – it’s amazing how many various topics we have and yet many of them seem to circle back to some common ideas that apply to all of them.

  6. We’re inspired by so many different things and we are terrified of plagiarism. I’m one of those people who just absorbs information, whether it’s via tv or a book I read 10 years ago. I live in fear that my mind will accidentally replicate something that I’ve read or heard. BUT, I think the chances of that actually happening are pretty slim. Most of the examples of plagiarism that I’ve seen are pretty darn blatant. Well, that’s what I keep telling myself anyways.

  7. This is such an interesting topic. And I think you nailed it. I think it’s absolutely impossible to be UNinspired by the world around us, but it’s up to us to put the words in the right order (meaning different, unique, compelling), spin the idea and/or make it our own. If we as authors can do that, we’ve got it made. Right? Right.

  8. I agree about research helping a story, and often it leads to ideas for other stories, or possibly a plot twist you hadn’t thought of. Good stuff, that research!
    🙂 Terri

  9. Great post! I am hoping that as I truly begin researching my wip, I’ll be inspired with new plot twists and not worried about “getting it right historically.” That’s not what I’m trying to do anyway.

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