1. Nicola
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    Nicola Member

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    Can You *Steal* A Plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Nicola, Sep 25, 2016.

    I struggle with plot and it seems several other aspiring authors do too.

    It's definitely unethical to steal an existing plot but is it ILLEGAL in the sense of plagiarising?

    The author of Twilight has admitted to stealing the plot of Romeo & Juliet (Shakespeare himself stole this plot from an ancient myth) and the author of Bridget Jones' Diary has admitted that the plot for the book is basically Pride & Prejudice for the 21st Century.

    So if a plot is OLD enough, it's fair game to borrow, right?

    Does anyone know the law around this, things like public domain?
     
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  2. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes you can steal a plot.

    Follow the trail from Ibsen's Enemy Of The People through to Jaws, the novel - that is a quite famous example.
    ..

    One day I shall probably do the same somewhere. I still have to stick the words in order, and draw the cover.
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Plagiarism, in and of itself, isn't a legal issue. If it rises to the level of infringing an author's intellectual property, then it can become one. Plot ideas, broadly, don't have any copyright protection. You'd have to copy a well-fined, specific story line from an author - plot, order of scenes, characters, and the like would all be important to that determination.
     
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  4. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    When it comes to storytelling, there is nothing new under the sun.

    I was recently listening to NPR, that reported on researchers running a broad range of fiction through a sophisticated AI... it came up with six archetypes, or basic shapes a story can take. Everything we read, or will ever read are slave to one or more of these narrative structures. How many Science Fiction stories have we all read, or were made into a movie, that are just HG Wells' War of the Worlds retooled for a modern audience?
    So you can't really lift a plot from a story that wasn't already lifted from another story.
    https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/jul/13/three-six-or-36-how-many-basic-plots-are-there-in-all-stories-ever-written

    Here's some of the findings...

    "Putting – maybe – an end to a debate that has been ongoing for millennia, the researchers found there are “six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives”. These are: “rags to riches” (a story that follows a rise in happiness), “tragedy”, or “riches to rags” (one that follows a fall in happiness), “man in a hole” (fall–rise), “Icarus” (rise–fall), “Cinderella” (rise–fall–rise), and “Oedipus” (fall–rise–fall). The most successful – here defined as the most downloaded – types of story, they find, are Cinderella, Oedipus, two sequential man in a hole arcs, and Cinderella with a tragic ending.

    is provided online, and it’s fascinating to pick through. I liked the rise-fall-rise shape of Gulliver’s Travels, where words such as “destroy”, “enemy” and “ignorance” drag down the happiness rating, and the plunging “Icarus” graph of Romeo and Juliet, plagued by words such as “tears”, “die”, “weep” and “poison”.

    The researchers acknowledge that “there have been various hand-coded attempts to enumerate and classify the core types of stories from their plots” in the past, whether it’s Foster-Harris’s 1959 assertion that there are three basic plot patterns (happy ending, unhappy ending and tragedy), or Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. The latter cites seven possible narrative structures: overcoming the monster (as in Beowulf ), rags to riches (as in Cinderella), the quest (as in King Solomon’s Mines), voyage and return (as in The Time Machine), comedy (as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), tragedy (as in Anna Karenina) and rebirth (as in Beauty and the Beast)."
     
  5. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Most art is appropriation or homage in one way or another.
     
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  6. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    That's very true.
    It's not stealing, just borrowing.
     
  7. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    If you're going to follow a known winning plot structure from a specific movie, just don't steal characters or settings. Add your own subplot threads, add your own characters and setting, and wrap them around the plot skeleton of something that works, and you will find it works, and doesn't seem too much like the original. Eragon, unfortunately, didn't do this well enough, so Paolini was thought of as a bad copycat of Tolkein, even though he was indeed using the very standard heroic journey structure.
     
  8. Kilby Blades
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    Kilby Blades New Member

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    I don't think you can steal a story, but I do think you can steal a plot. "Twilight" is about a family of vampires living under the radar who put themselves in jeopardy when one of them falls in love with a human. They leave town. Then come back. Then the human gets pregnant. Then she has a half-breed baby. Then she is turned into a vampire. All the while, they are trying to steer clear of rogue vampires and a resentful wolf pack. If you write a story about a family of vampires living under the radar who put themselves in jeopardy when one of them falls in love with a human, then they leave town, then come back, then the human gets pregnant, etc., etc., etc. you have just stolen the plot of "Twilight".

    On the other hand, if you write a story in which a human falls in love with a vampire who is living under the radar, and a bunch of OTHER stuff happens, you haven't stolen anything. Human + vampire romances have been around forever. It is what your individual characters do that make up the plot, and if your characters do something nobody else's characters have ever done, you're not plagiarizing.

    With that said, there are common themes and consistently-used genres. So many romance novels write the same basic story. Girl falls in love with someone she shouldn't (her boss, her male best friend, her best friend's boyfriend, her husband's brother, etc.), but same basic story doesn't mean same plot. For example, "Fifty Shades of Gray" vs. "The Proposal" are both about falling in love with your boss.

    I love a book called "Save the Cat!", which happens to be about screenwriting. The author argues that every movie can be boiled down to one of ten genres (e.g., Monster in the House, The Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, etc.). This, plus the book "Hero with a Thousand Faces" do a good job of talking about the similarities inherent among many successful stories. In the case of "Save the Cat!", the author argues that these similarities are logical. Certain story frameworks can be successful over and over because they give us the dopamine rush we crave to repeat.
     
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  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    There is a difference from stealing a plot, and copying a story (plagiarism, or something a little to close). So steal
    away, you should be fine.
     
  10. Correl Elnream
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    Correl Elnream Member

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    Apparently, a film producer once said, "Give me more of the same, only different.' I'm sure many of us have watched a film and read a book more than once, which would indicate we'd probably enjoy a similar film or book. As @Iain Sparrow and @Kilby Blades have already mentioned, you can find a lot of commonality in plots if you look closely enough, it's the story world and the characters' goals that make them unique.
     
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  11. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Nicholas Sparks writes the same story over and over with slightly different circumstances and characters. One could argue he plagiarizes himself.

    Plagiarizing is directly copying. It would be like re-typing a story and just changing the names of the characters. Using a similar plot but making it your own is not unethical.
     
  12. Justin Berak
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    Justin Berak Member

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    As T.S. Eliot said, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."
     
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  13. amerrigan
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    I prefer the idea that if you are struggling with plot then you haven't finished creating your characters. If you've made your characters to the extent that you know what choices they would make in any given situation; then you solve all plot problems based on this knowledge. When you have fallen into a state of awe, of being compelled to know, what your characters would do - - your plot comes from this source within you.

    Invent a fully formed being of your own, and put it into any given story taken from the past and watch what choices your character would make, see how the story would flow differently, and follow it to its natural conclusion... Get your character, put it into the first scene of twilight, of any other story, and the differences between your character and those in that book makes the story take a completely different direction.

    The key to this is 'desire' - to make your characters intrinsically need something within their existence.

    Once they need something... let's say for example... I don't know... 'acceptance from a father who died ten years ago' - then they constantly seek out the other characters in your story that are father figures, (i.e. they focus on completely different characters than the old protagonist would pay attention to) and try to find out what would make them happy, (they manipulate the people around them differently to how the old protagonist would) and they make all of their choices based on this different point of view, (their 'happily ever after' or 'tragic failure' is a different set of circumstances to the old protagonists idea of what this would be.)

    If your character is a fully formed being who makes these decisions, even if you have stolen the plot, they will fight against it to make the choices they would make, and write a completely different story for themselves, and it will usually happen as soon as the first scene....

    Once you've populated your world with characters that push and pull each other like this - then your plot happens naturally - the characters you create from within you are an expression of your views and opinions, and the plot and choices they make express your ideas of right and wrong.

    What I'm saying is.... you can start off stealing a plot, but if it isn't completely changed into something that expresses who you are and what drives the kind of characters that you create, then what was the point of writing it in the first place?
     
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  14. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    You might be interested in the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Firstly, it is just a wonderful reference for us creative-types to have on hand, secondly, it explains how artists and writers in every generation have leaned on the work of those who came before. They "steal" the bits that are useful to them, take those bits and mold them into their own works and their own voice. It is a wonderful little book. And it is very little. You could read through it in a day.

    Yes, you can steal plots. Just give them your own twists.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Just to reiterate, or expand, on what I said above, you can be liable for copyright infringement by stealing a plot. But to rise to the level where you might be looking at copyright infringement, you've got to be following along the original plot (i.e. sequence of events) pretty closely. Copyright doesn't extend to the idea itself. If you're close to the line, the only way you're going to find out whether you've crossed it is upon a verdict from a judge or jury.
     
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  16. gus d
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    gus d New Member

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    I am the complete opposite to you there. I have great "of the moment" film ideas that I write the plot and action for but then I really struggle to write natural dialogue. I think this may be an chance to make a forum devoted to uniting people with ideas with people who can effectively write. I wonder how many original ideas go to waste because of the lack of ability to put the idea into a decent script or novel.

    If you want a good plot idea and are willing to collaborate on the writing process I would guess there are thousands of people out there (including myself) who have no better option than to go this route. If, like me, people are new to creative writing, then good plot ideas can be quite frustrating as a plot doesn't make a short story, let alone a film script. Round up my lot (first timers with good ideas) and introduce them to your lot (people who can write already) and boom, we get an influx of decent writing.

    So, although I have made no attempt to answer your question (sorry for that), hopefully this offers a different angle on getting what you want.
    Just an idea.
     
  17. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    And, if you're caught at it, call it "homage."
     
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  18. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    You wouldn’t steal a handbag.
    You wouldn’t steal a car.
    You wouldn’t steal a baby.
    You wouldn’t shoot a policeman. And then steal his helmet.
    You wouldn’t go to the toilet in his helmet. And then send it to the policeman’s grieving widow.
    And then steal it again!

    Copying plots is stealing. If you do it, you will face the consequences.
     
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  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is a lot of fail here. It's not stealing. Even if it rises to the level of copyright infringement, it's not stealing. If it doesn't rise to the level of copyright infringement, then as a matter of public policy we have decided not to prohibit it.
     
  20. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    There`s nothing wrong with using basic plot or plot structures. I`ve always been fond of the idea that the plot itself doesn`t need to be original if you take it somewhere that is. You could nit pick most stories and compare them to other stories. There`s never wrong with taking inspiration from those before you and using it to shape you're work.
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Anyone who has ever posted a plot concept on here risks my having stolen it.
     
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  22. G. Anderson
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    G. Anderson Senior Member

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    I think a lot about this too, as I really enjoy books which have been inspired by other plots. But where's the line between inspired and stealing? I think for me, it's really about whether the 'new' author has something original to add to the plot. Another perspective, another outcome, etc. It's really hard to say but in my opinion it has to be near identical before I would call it 'stolen'.
     
  23. GizmoEFG
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    GizmoEFG New Member

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    It's hard to come across a plot that hasn't been done in some way before. It all depends on the spin you put on it and what you as an author add to said plot. I wouldn't call it plagiarizing unless it's a blatant rip off of something that you are taking credit for and may only change one or two things. There is definitely a line between stealing and being inspired.
    I would write what you want to write and not worry about the legal aspect so much. Writing is supposed to be fun, not a court case lol
     
  24. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    It's actually a quote stolen from British comedy, the IT Crowd.
     
  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So you plagiarized a post about not plagiarising? I can't decide if that's brilliant or ridiculous...
     
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