1. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    Copying Other Author's Sentences?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Goldenclover179, Aug 10, 2016.

    I wasn't sure what section to put this question, so I just put it in general writing, but is it plagiarism to be reading a book, see a sentence you really like, then incorporate into your own writing? Like, the exact sentence, but used in a totally different context with a completely different set of characters and situation. I mean, writers must have the same sentences all the time, but not on purpose, so is it considered plagiarism to have just one sentence the same sentence of another book?
    I don't mean like writing something in which every other sentence is copied, just one sentence in an entire book.
     
  2. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    If it's an intentionally recognisable reference, a knowing nod at your audience, then that's fine. (e.g. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.")

    I guess if it's not a famous line, and not one so unusual that it could be easily identified, no-one would ever know, but I think you'd get more out of it as a writer if you think about why you like it so much and use your analysis to help you write better. Or you could adapt it or parody it: just use it as a starting point. There's usually more than one way to say something. Wouldn't you rather say it your own way?
     
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  3. yeybez
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    yeybez Member

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    nobody has copyright on a single sentence (except maybe the Fine bros), you'll be fine.
    nobody will even notice.
     
  4. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    @Sal Boxford and @yeybez, thanks. This is something that's been really bugging me, and I'll try figuring out what makes the sentence work so well.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    How distinctive is the sentence? What makes it so special?

    I wouldn't copy it, myself. It seems like the first step down a bad path.
     
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  6. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    Did you come up with any part of the sentence yourself? No.
    Did you copy it verbatim into your own work and pass it off as something you created? Yes.
    Is this plagiarism? Absolutely.
    Will you get caught/in trouble? Almost certainly not.

    Maybe not getting caught is all that matters to you, but I'm with @Sal Boxford. The only time it's acceptable to boost a line verbatim is when intentionally referencing another work, paying homage to that work in a clear way, or writing a character who enjoys the work the line is from (which always feels contrived to me, so I wouldn't recommend it anyway).

    I have read lines in books that make me cringe in a "damn, I wish I'd written that first" kind of way, but to consider actually stealing them? There's no honor in that.

    Consider this: You write something and post it in the workshop on this forum. Feedback from other members about the piece is positive. One of them steals a line from your piece for his/her own story. You'll likely never know, but if you did, how would you feel?

    I would lose all respect for the person who used my line without permission.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Plagiarism isn't a legal cause of action, so you don't have to worry about that. I wouldn't be so sure no one will notice. If the sentence is generic, lacking in distinctiveness, it is likely that no one will notice, but then why copy it? If it struck you in a way that made you want to copy it, it probably struck other readers that way as well. Those readers are likely to be the ones who notice, if they're likely to read both your book and the source.
     
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  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was faced with a similar problem and came up with this as a solution (FYI, the first-person MC's mother has just been gifted with a tray full of leftover battered fish, but the MC doesn't like fish):

    We said so long to Irene (but I sure as hell wasn’t going to thank her for all the fish).
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016
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  9. Laurin Kelly
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    Laurin Kelly Active Member

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    I actually used the quote "So long and thanks for all the fish" in a resignation letter a few years ago. :D
     
  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Yes. What you are talking about doing is plagiarism and wrong. You are stealing. You are taking someone else's words and trying to pass them off as your own. If you go through with this, I hope you get caught. Even if you don't get caught, you will always know the truth. I don't know how far along you are in your writing career, but if you are thinking about plagiarizing and hoping to somehow justify it as saying it's only one line, maybe writing isn't your thing. If writing was your thing, you wouldn't feel the need to steal someone else's work. Any of it. I would tell anyone thinking of plagiarism that writing probably isn't there thing. It might start with one line, but it probably won't end there. And I don't see how any one line is just so great you have to steal it. Do you steal other things? Probably not because you know it is wrong. Plagiarism is wrong on every level.
     
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  11. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    Thank you to the people who pointed out why this is a wrong thing to do, it showed both sides of it. I definitely see where you're coming from, it makes a lot of sense; yes, it would suck to have your sentence stolen, regardless of whether it's legal or not.
    But is it okay to write that sentence in your own phrasing, just kind of using the general idea of it?
    Like, with the fish sentence:
    Would it still be stealing if you rephrased it like:
    We said goodbye, conveniently neglecting to thank her for the fish. We decided it was best to skate around either thanking her or telling her we hated it, what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
    Or is this still copying the original author's sentence?
     
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  12. Dr. Mambo
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    Dr. Mambo Active Member

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    You've now put it in your own words, which is perfectly acceptable. Paraphrasing is the way to go.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Goldenclover179, why do you want to do this? I read lots of sentences in the works of other writers that I love, but it's never occurred to me to steal them and stick them into my own work. I kind of recoil at the thought. Good writing by others just inspires me to try to write better myself. A good sentence by someone else makes me want to write a better one.

    Why do you want to steal someone else's sentence? Aren't you proud of your own work?
     
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  14. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    Okay, thanks for all the advice.
     
  15. Goldenclover179
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    Goldenclover179 Member

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    @minstrel, it isn't that I'm not proud of my own work, I haven't actually stolen any sentences, I was only wondering if this was something that's okay to do or not, for future reference if I ever saw something that really popped out. I'm new to writing, so I don't really know what you can and can't do.
     
  16. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    deadrats reply might seem a bit harsh, but it is the truth. Plagiarism is just that, no matter what the intention is behind it. Besides, it's pretty obvious that it is not okay. You are taking someone elses work and passing it off as your own. That is stealing something another writer came up with, and I think that the very essence of any writer is originality and creativity. Copying is quite the opposite of that, and unworthy of a writer. The question "would it get noticed" is the same question a thief asks himselfs before sneaking into your house at night and snatching your jewelry.

    If that sentence really popped out to you, that means it is probably well-written and memorable, otherwise it wouldn't have popped out. That means it is not just a generic sentence that one might find in many books, but one of the things that made that book a good read. The only possible way to use it would be some kind of tribute, but that would require one of your characters to quote the work in your own book. Ask yourself instead; What is it that made this sentence pop up to me? What is it about this style, this use of words that makes it great? Figure that out, and play with it. If you blatantly copy/paste the work of others into your own, not only do you run the risk of some serious notoriety, but it certaintly would not make you a better writer, and I certainly would feel a bit of shame to get praise for something that isn't mine. Try to see through it, see what it is that is good, and use it to improve yourself.
     
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  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Some of this is going a little overboard. You guys would have Shakespeare hanging by his thumbs. The comments here are way too proprietary in terms of ownership of language.
     
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  18. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    yes plaigarism is wrong, but if its one common sentence then we probably all do it all the time without noticing ... if its a stand out sentence like "goodbye and thanks for all the fish" then its probably best to acknowledge the sourcethrough the characters thoughts or actions e.g

    " 'good bye and thanks for all the fish' I quipped ...My aunts sneer deepened "always with the Douglas Adams quotes, you think you're so clever don't you have anything original to say ". Brushing her disdain off with a grin "no man who bothers about originality will ever be original" I told her , fortunately she wasnt well enough read to recognise CS Lewis when she heard him "
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think that writing sounds forced and artificial. If you're using something so well known as "so long and thanks for all the fish," and you're writing in that genre or to an audience likely to know it, you don't need to mention the source.

    Look at movies and TV shows that use pop culture references, often lines, from well-known works. They don't necessarily bother to explain where they come from. That detracts entirely from the value of the reference to the audience.
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on how long the sentence is and how much detail it has. I've been known to lift concepts and sentence structures from other people - whether that's song lyrics or a technique I see in a book that's a clever way of approaching something (that's called "learning how to write better"). But if I do that, and I'm not doing it as a purposeful reference, I'll workshop the sentence until I have a different sentence that has that same effect that I want.
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Context and authorial intent are important, and that sort of thing gets lost when people talk in absolute terms. There are many instances of lines being taken from sources where the intent is that at least a small percentage of readers will recognize the source. Not everyone will; not even most of them. But there's nothing wrong with that. It's an inside reference between the author and the reader, and explaining it destroys the connection it creates between the authors and the readers who do recognize it. I've seen probably half a dozen movies with lines from Evil Dead 2, which the majority of viewers aren't going to get at all. They're going to think the screenwriter from the newer film came up with the line. There's no character popping up saying "Nice Evil Dead 2 reference," or something like that. There isn't a line in the credits that says "That line from scene 24 was written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel" (nor am I going to explain the reference in the prior sentence). Sometimes it's a word or two, sometimes it's an entire sentence from the source material. Sometimes it is done as a parody, sometimes not.

    Context and intent. The absolute admonition that you can never use a sentence from another work is bollocks (in the context of fiction; academic writing is another issue). And you don't have to look far to find books, movies, and TV shows that quote entire lines (or more) from other works without anyone explaining where they came from. You're either among the readership/viewership who understands it, or you're not.
     
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  22. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    Course it does - thats because i bashed it up in 2 secs to demonstrate the point and its over exagerated for the same reason... that sort of creditting done properly doesnt though (the other option is to give credits in an appendix - you often see that in novelsd you know on page 47 jack recalls the lines of xywz ) ... what you shouldnt do is use someone elses words without giving any credit at all and then get sued for copyright violation .. cos that can realy ruin your day
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    A short sentence or phrase isn't going to give rise to copyright liability.

    And, as I said, TV shows, books, and the like use phrases or short sentences from other works all the time without going out of their way to specifically identify the source. That's part of the point of making those references.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But I didn't see this as a question about using pop culture references, but about grabbing a sentence merely because it's admirable--rather than because it's unknown--and inserting it in one's work.

    I couldn't wrap my mind around why anyone would think that's OK, but then I compared it to some other creative hobbies. It's pretty much just fine for a cook to copy elements of someone else's cooking or a seamstress/clothing designer to copy elements of someone else's garment. And it's just fine to join in the craze for zombies, or vampires, or young wizards. And it's fine to say, "Hey, I never thought of combining Beethoven with steel drums! Let's try that with Chopin!"

    But it's not OK to copy a specific sequence of notes, or a specific sentence.

    So I guess the line is less clear than I would have thought.
     
  25. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    It will if you use it in the same way the original author did ... for example if i started a book "John smith died because he got brave" then lee child probably doesnt have a case for copyright violation... however if I do that, then start my next chapter "Bob jones lived because he got careful" as well then i'm edging into ripping of die trying and getting my ass sued
     

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