1. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    Does it matter if the inspiration is obscure?

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Morwen Edhelwen, Jun 13, 2012.

    Would writing a story with characters and a plot which were heavily inspired by another one be noticed if the story was published but its source of inspiration was obscure?
     
  2. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    There's a big difference between being inspired by something and plagiarising it. Being inspired by a style of writing, a character or even a concept is not plagiarism unless you are deliberately taking their work and claiming it as your own. The distinction might seem blurry but it's something that you'll come across often. It's difficult to answer this without knowing your work.

    There's a plagiarism thread on this site so you could take a look at that for a more comprehensive answer.
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Also there is the chance for your work to be branded fanfiction even if it is not plagiarism.
     
  4. Silhouette
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    If it's so heavily inspired that you're worried about it being 'noticed', then (in my opinion/experience) you've most likely crossed into the territory of just copying someone else's work. You could copy somebody's unpublished work, never get called out on it, and it would still be wrong.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Let me offer an example.

    I read The Cay by Theodore Taylor once. It's an obscure book about a blind kid and an old man stranded on a deserted island in the middle of WWII.

    Inspiration would be if I took a few basic concepts from that book, tweaked it, and made my own original story. So, my story would be...say...a fantasy about an old mage tutoring a young blind 'mageling' (work with me here...) and their people live on an island the size of the U.K. and they're fighting a war against a race they feel is beneath them. See? Basic similarities (old man/blind kid, island, war, racism) but it doesn't feel like I'm re-writing The Cay. I feel like it's more my own book.

    Plagerism would be if I took The Cay, moved it to post-Civil War south, made the kid the son of a rich business man, and had the plot be that he and an old freed slave become stranded in the wilderness and they had to settle their differences to survive.

    But yes, in short, even if the story is obscure, lifting that story's plot into your own is wrong. Take the basic concepts that excites you and tweak it to form your own story.

    So, what are some of the basic concepts from this story you've been inspired by that fascinates you?
     
  6. growingpains
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    growingpains Member

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    Right. Plus, OP, you said "heavily inspired by." It's good to be inspired by something but probably not if it's "heavily" inspired. You shouldn't draw all your inspiration from just one source. The best pieces of work are ones inspired by a collection of different elements. Bonus: if you get your inspiration from more than one source, you're less likely to worry about whether or not you're plagiarizing one of the works in question.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Both the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary define plagiarism as to pass the words or ideas of another as one's own. In other words, it's when you take credit for someone else's work. That seems to be the most important part of the definition: that you are trying to enhance your own reputation or make money by passing someone else's work off as your own.

    Link, I don't see how your example of taking The Cay and setting it in the pre-Civil-War south would really qualify as plagiarism. You'd have to get a lot closer to the source material than that for it to be plagiarism. Your interpretation of the original theme may be entirely different, for one thing, along with your style and variations on the characters.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would say that if you feel you have to cover your tracks to conceal the source of your inspiration, you are better off stepping away from the idea entirely. Create something that does NOT come from an identifiable single influence that you know you are basing it upon.
     
  9. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    But here's the thing. If I wrote that story, I'd feel like I'm just re-writing The Cay but in a different time-period.

    The Cay= Racist white blind boy and old black man lost on an island during WWII.

    My pre-Civil War South Idea= Racist white blind son of plantation owner and old slave lost in the wilderness of Georgia on the eve of the American Civil War.

    That's what I was talking about.

    When you say that I'd have to get a lot closer to the source material to count as plagerism, how do you mean?

    EDIT: Okay, I thought about it a bit more, and I think I got it. It's how I'd treat the characters, their motivations, and their actions that will make it different, true?
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Many of Alan Garner's books are (openly) inspired by classic English folk ballads and mythology, but he reworks them so thoroughly and skilfully that it's almost impossible to see even when you are told. It doesn't matter a jot what inspired you, what matters is what you do with the inspiration.

    Further to that, look up Charles Butler's excellent essay "Alan Garner's Red Shift and the shifting ballad 'Tam Lin'" for just how far inspiration can be reworked.
     
  11. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether it's plagiarism or not, how would you feel knowing that, deep down, this story is a little too close to another for comfort?
    Other people might never notice the similarities, but you will. If you can't cope with that, then it's good enough reason to abandon the idea and think of an original one. Your integrity as a writer should be your concern first and foremost, I think.
     
  12. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    So ok, here's the situation. I have a story that I'm working on about an Arab chieftain known as "the Red Shadow", who's leading a band of desert outlaws from a nomadic tribe in a rebellion against colonialism. He falls in love with a girl from the enemy side named Margot when he infiltrates the fort as a cameleer. Now, some people will recognise that the names Red Shadow and Margot are references to the 1926 operetta The Desert Song. So, is that plagiarism? (The characters motivations and backstories are very different in my story.) I'm perfectly fine with the idea and don't think it's plagiarism. (for one thing, one idea I have is that the hero duels the enemy general).
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, for one thing "The Desert Song" is hardly "obscure", so the references and similarities will be noticed! And it was an original story (though far from an original plot!) so it's not just another version of a classic -- it will still be in copyright. What matters will be how you change and or subvert it.
     
  14. Silhouette
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    Without actually reading your story I can't say 100%, but your description certainly sounds like plagiarism. Changing the backstories is a good start to making something your own, but it sounds so far like the relationships and plot still are very similar to what actually happens in The Desert Song.

    And regardless The Desert Song probably isn't in the public domain. If your book was published you would almost certainly have to buy the rights to the character's names (which probably makes it less likely to be published in the first place).

    But if you are "perfectly fine with idea and don't think it's plagiarism" then I advise you to just go ahead and write it. Maybe there isn't really a plagiarism problem and I'm just misunderstanding your intentions. And if there is a problem, well there's no harm in a writing a story just for yourself.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    But copying "relationships and plot" isn't plagiarism -- there are only so many variants. Everybody reuses relationships and plots whether they realise it or not.
    It's probably US copyright until 2021. I doubt anybody would have to buy the rights to use the name "Margot". The name "Margot" in conjunction with the name "The Red Fox" in the context of a romance between characters on the opposite side of the Riff uprising -- well, that might be a different matter...
     
  16. Silhouette
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    That's exactly what I'm talking about though. It's the combination of using the same names, for characters that have the same relationship, in the same/very similar situations to the source material that makes this seem like plagiarism to me. When an author says 'my book is like Harry Potter, but...' or 'like The Desert Song, but...' I automatically feel like they're retroactively trying to change someone else's work into their own, rather than writing their own work that may have taken inspiration from somebody else.

    But at this point I think the OP should just write it. It's easy to worry a lot about what our stories will be like before we've actually written a single page. Really we have no idea what's actually going to end up on the page until we sit down and write it. A forum like this is great for telling an author that what they've already written doesn't work and why. When we talk about hypotheticals the conversation can only help so much, because there's no actual writing to dissect and deal with. Inevitably it always boils down to 'this idea will be as good as your writing can make it' when we talk about something that doesn't actually exist yet.
     
  17. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    Yeah, but Margot and the Red Shadow start out as enemies before she even found out that's who he is. In fact, she thinks someone else is the Red Shadow at first. And for a while, she doesn't even know that he's the Red Shadow.
     
  18. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    "The Red Shadow". And I probably will change it to Marguerite, which is the full form of Margot.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like you had better consult a literary attorney, instead of asking us how closely you can "derive" from someone else's work, and trying to convince us.
     
  20. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    I'm not really saying that it's obscure as such, but this would be a YA novel. I highly doubt most teenagers have heard of The Desert Song.That was what I meant by obscure- it's not likely to be known by the target market. And yes, I know it's under copyright. So is Show Boat. I don't want to plagiarise someone's work, because I'd rather not be known as "the girl who rips off old musicals".

    And also, I like this plot (well some of it anyway. The racial portrayals are very iffy.)and I really want to make it my own. IMO plagiarism is the worst thing you can do in writing.
    Silhouette: Yes, there's no harm in just writing a story for yourself. But I want to get this published someday, if it's good enough. And IMO plagiarism is the worst thing you can do in writing.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a quick comment: Don't rely on anything going out of copyright; copyright was extended for 20 years in 1998, and I would expect it to be extended again when that time is up.
     
  22. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    Here's my plot. Would anyone still consider it to be plagiarism? Or would it be inspired by? (I haven't seen a stage production, but I have seen the 1929 movie with John Boles as the Red Shadow and Carlotta King as Margot on YouTube.)

    Anwar Kareem, a young Riff cameleer at a French fort in a North African country which is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Morocco and Egypt, is secretly a tribal chieftain and the Red Shadow, leader of a group of warriors from his nomadic tribe. In disguise as part of his infiltration after a successful raid, and using his real name, he befriends a girl named Margot, telling her that he's an orphan and had to leave his tribe's camp with his uncle, meeting up with his cousin (his "uncle's" daughter) Zarqaa, a talented dancer with the evil eye who's Margot's closest childhood friend, because their people are being dispossessed by the French, so he's in favour of the Red Shadow's rebellion. Meanwhile he persuades his friend Pierre to be his decoy, causing Margot to suspect that Pierre may be the Red Shadow. Zarqaa "exposes" Pierre, who is confronted by his father and seriously wounded in the resulting duel.

    Eventually, the Shadow and Margot grow closer and start to fall in love. She learns more about his culture and he begins to feel torn between love and honour. One evening they are riding in the Sahara, and they are caught in a dust storm. He turns the camels towards his tribe's camp and they are rescued. Due to exposure to the cold, Margot has caught a chill and they spend several weeks at the Riff camp. One night Margot sees a red cloak in Anwar's uncle's family's goatskin tent and discovers that her friend is the Red Shadow. He reveals that his "uncle" is actually his lieutenant, who was his father's closest friend, and his mother died in childbirth, while his father died in a battle with the French due to his opposition to colonialism. Zarqaa isn't related to him at all. Margot eventually sees the Riffs' struggle as at least somewhat justified and helps them out. The rest of the story involves both of them trying to keep their activities secret, the tribesmen's attempts to keep their chief away from Margot, the Shadow trying to balance his romance with his duty, and Margot's attempt to tactfully tell Pierre how she feels (not helped by the fact that he's been seriously wounded) and sort out what she feels about the Shadow. So basically, The Desert Song meets Disney's Pocahontas, without the noble savage stuff. (At least, I hope I can do enough research to make sure that's the case. As a Chinese-Australian, I get angry when people stereotype Chinese people.)

    What about something like Naughty Marietta or The Firefly, which were written in 1910 and 1912 respectively and so have already gone into public domain? (One of my planned projects is based on Naughty Marietta, from Adah's perspective. And Marietta's disguise is much better than in the opera, because she's a professional actress with an androgynous appearance. It's Naughty Marietta meets As You Like It.)
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I Am Not A Lawyer, but I believe that what's in public domain right now remains in public domain.
     
  24. Morwen Edhelwen
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    Morwen Edhelwen Member

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    OK, just wanted to make sure (I'm pretty sure) I'm planning to have Marietta sing Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life! as well. Of course, there's a difference between a three-page draft (what the story being discussed is, so far, and a summary on my computer, which is what the NM based one is.)

    BTW, anyone want to put in their opinion of the plot above and whether it's plagiarism or inspired by? Because it's very different to the operetta's. (I'm pretty familiar with the operetta. None of that stuff about the Red Shadow's backstory is from there. And I don't remember him being a cameleer, or an Arab. Or Pierre being his decoy (Pierre and the Red Shadow were the same, if I'm right. :) or the characters of Margot, Pierre and the Red Shadow and Azuri being teenagers, or the Shadow being a reluctant leader, or her discovering his identity in that way. Or most of the members of the Shadow's band being years older than him. (I made up that entire plot. Literally the only similarities are the Riff uprising, a red burnoose, horsemanship and single combat skills, the duel between the (fake) Red Shadow/Pierre and the general, some of the names, and Pierre being the French general's son and Azuri being a dancer.) That's only between 7-9 similarities, if numbers matter in any way.
     
  25. agentkirb
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    Now, I don't know how close you feel your story is to the real thing... but you probably are fine. It's common practice for TV shows and probably to an extent in books as well. I remember an episode of CSI where they borrowed the plot from the old movie Strangers on a Train. They borrowed it to the point where they referenced the movie in the show, saying something like "this murder is just like something out of Strangers on a Train" to the point where at the end of the episode they were in a theater that was showing the actual movie. And the thing is... CSI isn't the only show where they've made a Strangers on a Train inspired episode.

    One of my favorite shows is (or was, since they ended the series this year) House MD. And if you watch any of the behind the scenes stuff or read the wikipedia page, you would know that the shows main characters draw a lot of resemblance from the Sherlock Holmes stories. To the point where the names are similar. House (Holmes) is the main character in the series and Wilson (Watson) is his close friend. House and Holmes share a lot of traits, including having a drug addiction. Obviously both characters don't match up perfectly, but it's certainly no secret where they drew the inspiration from and the producer doesn't even try to hide the fact.

    I think the only way you run into a problem is if the plot similarities are obvious to the point where the plot is predictable or not interesting... or if your readers feel like they are basically reading a copy of this other book/movie/series.
     

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