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One thing I obsess about too much is originality.  I like to be original, to know that the things I say are my own and not stolen from some movie or comedian’s shtick.  I like to think that the concepts that I write about are from my mind, instead of lifted from the last book I read.

This is strange, since I often do just that.

Most people would say there’s a difference between something inspiring you and you copying something.  There are also two different ways to copy something– to copy it intentionally, and to copy it unintentionally.  For the latter, let’s say you read a book a year ago and then two months later got a story idea, which you wrote out into a full-length novel.  A year later, you reread that book and find that a lot of things from that story of yours were copied from that other book.  They were small things, but they were there.

I’m rereading Reckless, by Cornelia Funke.  I remember reading this just over a year ago, and at about that time I got the idea for Isaac Phael’s story, where a hapless prince goes around ruining his chances of ever marrying.  He steps on Cinderella’s foot and causes it to swell up so much it doesn’t fit the slipper; he kisses Sleeping Beauty and then feeds her Snow White’s apple; he meets Beauty and manages to kill the Beast, which estranges Beauty from him forever.  Now, rereading Reckless, I’m finding a lot of stuff that I unwittingly copied for Isaac’s story– such as Snow White looking, not preserved perfectly, but like a corpse.  This is what happened to Sleeping Beauty in Reckless.

Reckless is a story about industry, magic, and fairy tales in a world behind a mirror.  The author is extremely creative, and it’s very difficult not to just borrow things from her tale.

Such as getting to the fairy tale world through a mirror.  I had already had this idea for Isaac’s story by the time I read Reckless, but once I read Reckless I realized that she had done it so much better than I had.  I continued with Isaac, but the story definitely wasn’t the caliber of Reckless.  So I copied a few things.

There are creatures in Isaac’s fairy tale world that never really came into the story, but I knew about– they’re called Statues, and unbelievably, they’re figures of stone that are animate.  These bear a striking resemblance to a prominent race in Reckless called the Goyl, who are stone people too.

Since Isaac’s story, I’ve tried to cut down on copying thematic elements of stories and tried to be more original there– but I’ve still copied a lot of things.  This August, for example, I was reading a few Dumas books– and I tried, unsuccessfully, to duplicate his writing style.  I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on my part, but it was definitely there.

I reread Obert Skye’s Leven Thumps books a while ago and realized that his writing style was extremely similar to my own.  Why?  Because I had copied it the first time I read that book.

One of my biggest problems is copying a writing style in a way that it would never work.  I do it too often for my own good, and it’s kept me from creating my own voice, I think.  Perhaps I’ve created that voice on this blog– but perhaps not, because this voice has changed a lot since I started this thing.

My question here is going to vindicate me from the above if answered yes, and is going to incriminate me (sort of) if answered no: is copying like this okay?

Personally, I think that when you’re starting out as a writer, it’s fine to copy a few things– such as inanimate objects insulting your characters (sounds a lot like Obert Skye…).  After all, a few popular writers have gotten started with… fanfiction.  Not that I’m saying that this is fanfiction, because I avoid that stuff like the plague, but I think when you’re starting with anything it’s beneficial to begin by copying someone who’s better than you.  Eventually you get to the level where you can do things for yourself and be original– until then, I think copying is fine.

I could put an entire list of characters here that are alike to other characters I’ve read about recently, but I won’t because I’m rather ashamed to admit everything I’ve copied.

In other news, since this post has mostly been about me and not really about writing or anything important like that, I’m hoping that I’ll refrain from copying anything too much in the next Phil Phorce episode, which I am going to begin… now.

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  1. I think unconscious copying is fine. The trick is going back through it during revisions (ick) and making sure nothing rings a bell from anything else you’ve read. But with conscious copying, I think it’s split into two categories – plagiarism and homage/parody. If you’re just flat out stealing elements from another story to build your own, then it’s worse than fanfic, because fanfic admits what it’s doing. But with a homage or a parody, it’s taking that element, turning it inside out, and then putting it to a completely different use. Pratchett, my favorite author, has written literally dozens of books – each with its own plot, mind – but using pastiches, parodies, and homages to add layers and layers of meaning. He was intentionally invoking other work, but putting it to a different use.

    I guess what I’m saying is basically, if you take it, disguise it so it looks like you didn’t.

    • Ah. So if it does happen that you copied, just spin it so that it looks like it was your idea and the other person stole it.

      • No, it’s not spinning, it’s changing the element itself. For example, I found out that I’d accidentally borrowed the idea of trolls literally made out of stone from one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, the fact that they were made out of stone was an integral part of the story. What I did, instead of chucking the whole thing, was leave the fact that they were made of stone, and change their other aspects. Instead of being actual silicon-based life forms, they became cursed men, and instead of being dumber than a… well, a box of rocks, they were still as intelligent as they’d been in life. When one steals unconsciously, it’s almost never an entire idea, it’s bits and pieces. You have to take whatever bit you ended up with and make it unique, by changing it around.

      • Indeed. Then you can say that you were inspired by such and such, instead of copying it. Good thoughts…

  2. I think using some of the same themes isn’t a bad thing – nothing is completely original now. It’s all been done before; it’s the combination of ideas that becomes original.

    And as for copying the writing styles… mine is probably a lot like Bill Bryson’s, at least the stuff on my blog. I like humor, you see. But it’s unconscious. I hate writing boring, I-am-such-a-depressed-teenager stuff, so I don’t.

    I’ve tried to imitate JKR’s writing… didn’t work… we just write differently and I’m OK with that.

  3. Nothing is original, my dear. We’re all stealing from someone else, anyway. The main point is to steal like an artist and make no apologizes for any similarity. ^.^

  4. Stepping on Cinderella’s foot and feeding Sleeping Beauty Snow White’s apple? That sounds awesome. Though not for Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, I’d imagine.

    I’ve honestly never really noticed much how much I unintentionally copy from other people’s works. Sometimes I try to purposefully copy it, because it’s such a cool idea, but then it ends up going somewhere completely different. I’m not sure that it necessarily ends up being original, but it’s definitely different than the first idea.
    I’m pretty sure I don’t necessarily copy people’s styles very much… Well, okay, sometimes I will copy people’s little quirks, but I think (I hope) that even so, I still have my own voice in it. Somebody told me once that something I said to her online sounded almost exactly like me in real life. I don’t think she knew I was a writer at that point, but it made my day.

    • Yeah, unfortunately, it wasn’t that great for either of them— or the protagonist. That book was kind of strange.

      I think everyone copies everyone, to a point. But it’s good to know your own voice, and even to try new things.

  1. We’ll Have Phun, Phun, Phun ‘Til Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away… « This Page Intentionally Left Blank

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