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Author Topic: Unintentional, but conscious nigh plagarism
Member # 9398

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I've noticed twice now that my characters sometimes get into situations where a really good response, seems natural, but there is also a part of me that immediately recalls that a certain phrase has been used before and I really liked it then and now . . . well, is this nigh plagarism?

The last time, I made a point of changing some of the words a little, but the basic cadence and meaning was fairly close. Is this something to feel guilty about? Do you rewrite a scene to avoid having your character say something that would be natural for them to say, but you suspect that your subconscious is simply echoing a really good line from somewhere else?

Or is it no greater a moral outrage than a cliche? Or is it homage? Or is it inevitable and we all reach into our reproitoire echoing some transient mentor from time to time?

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Robert Nowall
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I guess if it's recognizable as somebody's "famous" quote, it could be plagiarism...but it could also be, say, an in-joke or attempt at humor. If you're worried about it, make a change.

Lotsa times, I've put something in like that, intending to make changes later. I can only hope, at least in my commercial-intended work, that I've actually remembered to fix it.

(I also put "famous" in quotes---there are certain limits on how certain things can be said, and if a favorite writer or TV show or whatever used some simple turn of phrase, I don't see it should prevent you from using the same or similar phrase. (Example: I'd say you could have a character say, "He's dead," and it wouldn't evoke the famous "He's dead, Jim," bit from Star Trek.)

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Member # 5512

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I've been once politely accused of ripping off a certain book. Fortunately, I could easily say I've never heard of it so the matter was closed.
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Member # 9398

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Well that sets me a bit more at ease. I guess its a bit gray, it may for me conjure a memorable connection but I'm not doing it TO BE like so and so, it is the phrase that I like and naturally fits. It's the one that comes to mind.
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Member # 9883

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It all depends on how well known the quote is, and how well you use it, in my opinion.

Let's assume the line you mean is something really well known. "To be or not to be, that is the question."
-folks will think of it as a nod. But it probably takes the reader briefly out of the story. Suddenly, you've had to pay a price for the inclusion.

Let's assume it's known, not iconic, but known to many in the genre. "I've written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me."
-now it gets a little rougher. Readers will wonder why you included that. Was it meant as a joke? Are you making fun of it? Wow, no, you seriously think that's appropriate for your character to say? Suddenly, you've had to pay a price for including it, a heavier price than you paid for a simple nod.

The final category: only you even really know where the quote comes from, like Nowall's above example. "He's dead."
-most people won't even come close to recognizing your inspiration. No price paid that I can see.

[ July 24, 2012, 11:46 AM: Message edited by: JoBird ]

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Member # 8019

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Freshness of expression is artful. Verbatim copying of another person's expression and representing it as one's own is plagairism. There's a chasm of potential in between.

Take the expression "To be or not to be." Change it up. Change the voice or the context or both. Make it fresh; make it one's own. To live in obscurity or die miserably. Take back what is mine by right or languish in what little is left to me. To dare or to be safe. Like, having a lively life, you know, is worth the risk, for cripe's sake, but, okay, maybe being safe is, like, better, you know, for living until another day's chances, maybe.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Allusion is a high form of the art of writing, especially when it works in context without anyone "getting" it. That way, those who do "get" it can enjoy an insight that others may miss, but those who don't can still appreciate what you're saying.

And if it makes a reader think of the thing you are alluding to, whether it is an exact quote or not, it is still an allusion.

And allusion is not plagiarism.

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