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“How do you manage the fine line between being influenced by a work and plagiarizing it? I’m worried that my readers, who know I’m an avid fan of a book series, might start to see the similarities between my work and call me out for “stealing” ideas.” This is something I saw on Tumblr today.
Good question. Especially in view of the fact that writers will at some point come across the fact that there are no new ideas. Period.
Avoiding plagiarsim is therefore simply a matter of taking one of these much used ideas and seeing how we can make it my own. Let’s take the Three Little Pigs or TLP and their nemesis, the Big Bad Wolf, or BBW. Each of those pigs tries to come up with a way to stave off the BBW. Maybe you too want to write a picture book about 3 characters and their antagonist.
So… how can you change it up? If you make a conscious effort it’s not that hard. Three is a magic number so let’s leave that alone. It’s common enough that it slips under plagiarism’s radar. But let’s change the pigs to deer. Or even better, let’s make the threesome a deer, a moose, and an elk. Or better yet, 3 antlered moose, a 2-headed deer and an elk with a Swedish sweater on.
Now we still have 3 characters, but we’ve used our own imagination to change them up. No resemblance now to our piggies.
Maybe you will want them to try three different techniques to deal with the wolf. (We’ll leave the wolf alone, to show that some similarities to existing stories are inevitable and acceptable.
Now for the wolf. Is he gonna be the Big and the Bad? Let’s make him Stupid and Stunning. What does he want from this family of the ruminants? How is he a threat to them? Will he want to eat them too?
This is where brain storming is handy. (Or a deer with two heads, ;P ) Maybe, seeing as we have 3 funny animals, this should be a funny problem. Maybe the wolf wants the elk’s sweater for warmth, the deer’s extra head for brains, and one of the moose’s antlers for over his door for prestige.
I think I’ll leave it at that. The rest of this story will unfold according to the substitutions we have made for the original 3-pig-1-wolf tale. In this tale there will be no huffing and puffing. Perhaps some bucking and butting.
People may recognize the framework but no one can call this plagiarism. And look at that—in writing this post I have a fantastic idea for a picture book that none of you would dare to plagiarize right???
To sum up, plagiarizing can be easily side-stepped by choosing a common story framework, plot or theme and allowing our muse, our creative genius, to play with it. This, then, is called our WRITER’S VOICE and when we let it lead us, we’re safe from plagiarism.