1. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    Using a friend's edited paragraph?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by tonten, Apr 20, 2011.

    So my friend, a beta reader for my novel, pointed out a paragraph that could be written better. He used three simple words that I never thought of to make that scene more descriptive, which I agree, looks better with his suggestion.

    My version of the paragraph is fine too and gets the job done, but I really like his suggestion.

    So I've taken what he wrote, two sentences, and just stole the three words and logic of it to integrate it into the paragraph.

    For some reason, I feel this is plagiarism. Is it considered plagiarism if he's fine with it? Will I have legal troubles hypothetically in the future if something ever happened between us and our friendship gets sour? (which I hope nothing like that ever happens)

    He hasn't suggested any other such major change in the rest of my novel, nor have any of my beta readers. The rest of the novel is fine. It's just this change he's suggested, which I'm hitting my head over for not thinking of.
     
  2. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    You said he wrote two sentences and you took three words from those two sentences and integrated them into the paragraph. It sounds like what you are now using would bear no resemblance to what was originally suggested and I can't see a problem as there is no copyright on using just words, by themselves, in a different combination then suggested. Maybe I'm wrong (and if I am I'm sure someone will jump in any minute now), but from what you've described I wouldn't worry about it at all.

    I would also think that if you have his permission in writing (email, chat that has been saved) you shouldn't have a problem anyway. I could be wrong on that too, though.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I am beta reading for someone and I suggest something they like I would have 0 bother with them using it entirely - it is kind of nice to get the acknowledgement when the book gets published lol What is your friend's position - presumably they wouldn't have suggested it if they didn't expect it could be used ?

    Like Trish says just save any email communication.
     
  4. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    a trickle of words within a novel would be pretty hard to attack...it seems to be more of an issue for you...that somehow the work is no longer completely yours...get rid of them then...
     
  5. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    He wrote his words based on your words to improve them, then you took his words and modified them so it is all your work, just with some input from a friend/proof reader.

    If you wrote his sentence word for word then I might agree that it would be questionable, remember he made his paragraph from yours, so it was not all his to start with.

    I agree with Elgaisma, give him credit for assisting you if it is published.
    I bet he did more then just this paragraph. Even more so if doing this with no guarantee of profit.
     
  6. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    I think this is what I am feeling. That somehow the work is no longer completely mine.

    I think in time, I should be able to look past it, but I also fear the legal repercussions -- if they exist?

    Yes, it is just three words.


    I am very grateful for his help, and I will mention him in the credits if it ever gets published.
     
  7. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    Legal repercussions? Unless you are writing a non-fiction book I don't think you have much to be worried about.

    Creating a staging element to frame your story is much different from a plot element. Having three words in a book does not necessarily change the tone or pacing of the entire story now, does it? I'm pretty sure a lot of writers on this forum could pick up any Harry Potter, change 3 words around in a single paragraph for the better and not have if affect the book in a major way. Would that entitle them to a piece of the cut? Probably not.

    Now that I think about it, editors do this sort of thing all of the time. I've never heard of an editor battling an author for plagiarism.

    Honestly, if this is a really good friend of yours, I'm sure they'll be happy with a nice mention in the acknowledgments page.
     
  8. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    it should change in time...when i was younger i had trouble using the edits given by others in their exact form...now...i am grateful for them, and have no worries of ownership...the over-arching ideas are mine...the rest? just dressing and the means...
     
  9. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    He was trying to help you by suggesting it. It's not like he can go off and publish those paragraphs all on his own without the rest of the novel. It was meant in a helpful way, so take it as that, and don't forget to acknowledge him :)
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If someone helps straighten your tie, do you undress and throw away the suit?
     
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  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    lol.
     
  12. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    LOL.

    What do you think editors do? The entire purpose of an editor, or even a beta reader, is to identify weaknesses with your prose or your story, then (possibly) offer suggestions to correct the issue. If you use your editor or beta reader's suggestion, that's not plagiarism. It's taking editorial direction.
     
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  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    It's a sliding scale, though. I had a friend look over a piece that was only 101 words. I was thinking he'd give general feedback, he was thinking he'd give it a 'this is what I'd do' treatment. In the end, he made enough changes that felt more like re-writes than editing, that I didn't feel comfortable accepting his suggestions.

    It was mostly because when you change even a sentence of a 101 word piece, it may be changing 10% of the piece, thus the sliding scale to this sort of thing. In a larger piece, it becomes less of an issue, of course. But it's also important to communicate what type of feedback you're looking for, and the reason I'm careful with my feedback and try to avoid anything that might create that 're-write' feeling in the writer unless it's purely editing and just changing or eliminating their own words.

    And anyway, a manuscript full of someone's re-written or newly written sentences doesn't really teach all that much anyway, as it can just becomes a crutch feeding the writer answers instead of helping them (and the reviewer) actually try to get beneath the surface and investigate/explain why something may not be working.
     
  14. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    The best editors and/or beta readers will identify problem areas, tell you what type of changes need to be made (more descriptive, better word choice, remove that cliche, etc.), and, occasionally, offer an example of what might work better. If you're working with an editor or beta reader who regularly rewrites your sentences, and you regularly accept those changes wholesale, that's no good. But if you borrow a turn of phrase or word here or there from those suggestions, I personally see no harm in it. Sometimes the suggestion you receive is so freakin' good that you'd be silly not to take it.

    As others have said, "borrowing" a word or three from your editor hardly amounts to anything at all. It's just not a big deal. If you're depending upon your editor to rewrite your prose, that's obviously different.

    Honestly, I've been through the editing process five times now with two different publisher-assigned editors, and having your words chopped, reordered, and sometimes even modified is just part of the deal. I learned long ago not to get too hung up on those types of editorial suggestions/changes, because they're a part of being published, really. Just because my editor polishes my words, doesn't make it any less my work.
     
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  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Plus until publishers are involved it is entirely your decision whether or not to accept the suggestion.
     
  16. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Give him a thank you note in the acknowledgement will it make it easier to both accept and use the improvement.

    "The best three world is the book wasn't written by my but by my fantastic friend X. Thank you."
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is no legal issue here whatsoever... you can stop agonizing over it and finish your book...
     
  18. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    thank-you all for the reassurance
     
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think your friend would be flattered that you took and acted upon his/her advice.

    If you're unsure - why don't you ask them?
     

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