We all know that plagiarism is wrong. If you’ve written at all, you’ll have it engrained in your head that copying is theft and stealing creative works is one of the worst things you could do in the writing world (no matter how much we wish we could have written that one book, you know, the really really good one). But what about accidental copying?
Every writer I’ve ever met has at some point said to me, “I really like this story, but I think it’s already been done” or “I just finished my book and found out there was one published last year that’s the exact same thing” or “I started reading this book, and I think I accidentally stole its plot.” I know I’ve been there, staring at my favorite books and wondering if I was just a bit too influenced by them, if our plots are a bit too similar, if our writing styles mesh too well.
But then we have the well-repeated Mark Twain quote: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” And this just might be the most important quote a writer–or any artist–can ever see.
Plagiarism is stealing fully formed concepts (or words, or sentences, or pages). Plagiarism is taking the full design. Plagiarism is writing a story about an orphan boy in glasses with a lightning bolt on his head who goes to a wizarding school and defeats the evil wizard who killed his parents with the aid of his redheaded best friend. Plagiarism is not writing a story about a wizard. It’s not even writing about a wizaring school. Harry Potter doesn’t own wizarding schools anymore than it owns orphans. Yes, it has been done before. Yes, it can be done again.
General concepts are not owned. Magic, teenagers with terminal illness, vampires, werewolves, “quirky love stories”–all these things can be done again. Just make sure there’s a reason for it, make sure that your version is different than the last one, that you’ve “turned the kaleidoscope” so to speak, and are giving to the world a story that only you could write: a brand new take on what’s been done again and again and again.
And this is a question we should be asking ourselves no matter what: is what I’m writing important? Is it a story that needs to be told, and one that only I can tell? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, doesn’t have to be an instant classic. Important can just mean “it will make the right people smile at the right time” or it can mean giving representation to a lifestyle that isn’t often seen. It can mean different things to different people, but it should mean something to you. When you’re off trying to sell this story, agents are going to ask just that: why are you the author to make this story a reality? Why could you and only you write this story?
But by all means, be inspired by what you read and watch. Media is meant to be absorbed and used, to be a springboard into new media.
To all the writers out there: how do you determine the uniqueness of your story? How are you influenced by the stories you read and how do the play into what you write?
Feel free to add to this post or submit your own advice to share with your fellow writers at ancwritingresources.tumblr.com
♦ ravenclaw ♦ half-blood ♦ pre-auror ♦ Hogwarts’s art club member
“Sai was a half-blood wizar, who was orphaned during the first wizarding war. He spent his childhood in a magical orphanage, and after he started to show the first sign of magic, he got trained to be an elite auror. He was raised and conditioned to have no personality, personal connections, or a name; “Sai” was given to him when he entered to Hogwarts and get sorted into Ravenclaw. Sai retained an interest in art. When Shin, an older boy from the orphanage later sorted also to Ravenclaw, discovered Sai’s drawing ability, he encouraged Sai’s talent and they became very close. In his early years at Hogwarts, Sai was distinguished by his total lack of emotion which he often masks with a false, cheerful, yet transparent façade. After spending more time with his house mate Sakura, and her friend Naruto, he started to break out of his emotionless shell, and he was able to start giving genuine smiles.”
The concept of Witchelny, a different world/dimension that is connected to the Digital World, originates from the 1998 v-pet toy released by Bandai called “Magical Witches - Four Elements Communication Book”. The toy was shaped like a tiny book (with The Secret Magical Book on written on its cover) and similarly to other v-pet toys from Bandai, your goal was to raise and train a tiny witch that lived in the world of Witchelny, the Book working as a way to communicate with your witch.