Plagiarism

Sometimes people are charged with plagiarism when it was unintentional.

Not for those instances when segments are reproduced word for word for several pages but in other times, shorter passages, and even ideas.

Newton is credited with the old saw about seeing further than his contemporaries because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

He probably paraphrased an earlier quote that was quite similar. It does not mean it wasn’t his thought.

Many times in history we have seen parallel creations going on at the same time.

And we have all heard that imitation is the sincerest form of respect.

Still, after reading a lot one can find it difficult to recall exactly where certain thoughts came from.

Citation becomes impossible. Nor should it be a big deal.

It is the nature of human thinking to latch onto a thought that resonates with us and we may carry it around as part of our psyche for years before it is put to paper perhaps in a phrasing different from the original but in some wording more peculiarly our own.

This does not mean it cannot be construed as an “original thought” – many assume there are no such, anyway – but it can be claimed as one’s on if stated differently.

Avid readers often have this problem.

When younger, I kept a bibliography of all the books I had read for several years. Later I lost track of the list and the urge to keep track of such things but when I came across the pages many years later I was amazed to see the list topped out just over twelve hundred volumes.

That’s a lot of books!

And I can guarantee that bits and pieces of many of them have found their way into my own writing. A thought here, a phrase there, but (hopefully!) no fully developed stories.

It is the nature of writing that we use words that are already in use and some of them seem to string together nicer than others.

Of course, when too many writers string the same words together it becomes cliche and anathema in subsequent writings. Such as using “golden orb” to describe the Sun. *shudder*

We cannot help but mimic what we know, what we learn, even if certain combinations of ideas seem “original” or “unique” by some readers.

Even some of the best modern writers fall into the trap of “repeating themselves” with characters, situations, events, and even whole sections of dialogue from one of their books to another.

Yes, they plagiarize themselves.

We shouldn’t take it so hard if we seem to accomplish the same but we should strive to veer away from that slippery slope.

(And I sincerely hope I have not posted something similar before!)



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Inspirations and Ideas

books

I have been very fortunate in the jobs I have had over the years. And there has been a wide variety of them even so.

But they have primarily been “left-brain” work, very analytical stuff. So while my left-brain has been occupied getting the job done, my right-brain has been able to indulge itself in unfettered flights of fancy.

And I have learned to keep a small notebook with me at all times to jot down the ideas as they come.

Somedays I may not have any inspirations but other days I run on for page after page.

I’ve checked and, yes, it has a lot to do with planetary positions and bio-rhythms.

Still, my wife wonders why I bother to keep all these ideas as I already have over a thousand book ideas outlined.

But I still keep accumulating them and they have sometimes helped me combine two different concepts into one, better, story.

Gee, only six hundred books now…


The Characters in My Head

When I started the journey to authorship, I read quite a few books on how to write.

The ones I particularly remember was one by a young author named Dean Koontz – and this was before his string of bestsellers began.

But most of the volumes said you had to outline the plot, developing the backstory for the characters, and so forth. I tried the methods they proposed but I could not seem to move forward with the actual writing.

Another thing they all stressed was editing and re-writing, over and over to make it as good as possible.

Ho, boy!! What fun that seemed… (that, of course, was intended as a joke…)

I know one author who had the first volume of a series published in 1980 and, after a year, the publisher wrote and asked if the sequel was ready. The author felt it was not quite ready yet and begged off that year’s publishing schedule. That went on for a few years before the publisher quit asking.

The sequel is still not ready to publish because the author is still not satisfied with it. In fact, he is now thinking or re-writing the first one.

John Steinbeck had an interesting observation on that sort of mental writer’s block: he could go back later in his career and rewrite any line of any of his books and make it better. Could any of it ever be called “perfect”? No, at some point the author has to say “good enough” and let it go, just like raising children: you do what you can with the time you’ve got but you have to let them go at some point.

And then there was Robert A. Heinlein’s take on the subject. He would write a short synopsis, outline, whatever about the story and work on it primarily in his head. When the story was ready, he sat down and wrote it. Once completed, he would go back through it to clean up typos (and there are always typos!) but he did not change the story. In his mind, if it was done enough to put to paper, it was DONE!

Since then I have read Stephen King’s On Writing and found it full of many useful pointers as well.

My technique is probably closer to Heinlein’s than any of the others I have studied. But I don’t know if it will work for anyone else as my brain is hard-wired differently.

Ideas are gathered in a file and reviewed when I feel a story coming together. If it is a tale of another world, I may draw maps, sketch landscapes – yeah, I’m a visual person – and even construct genealogy tables for the characters. (You’d be surprised how many story ideas can crop up from that little exercise!)

But, like Heinlein, when the story is ready, it goes onto paper. The characters created are populating my head and they tell me their story and I write it down as fast and as concisely as I can. Some of these characters get cagey, some get adamant, but they all want to see the light of day – i.e. reside on a printed page.

It’s my system and it works for me. Perhaps your characters do not as much come to life and that’s fine.

The main thing is to find what works for you.