Elle (theroadtoelle) wrote,


Prompt: What is originality and what is plagiarism? As writers we experience a fine line between the two. Most ideas have been done, but if we take our own original take on them, are they new? Sometimes we find inspiration or influence from other authors; it is how we grow as writers. How do you deal with this dilemma in your own writing?

No two people think exactly alike. We are each products of our lives up to this point. My sisters and I had the same parents, and similar childhoods, but not exactly the same even up the points where we left home. We had different friends and different experiences, even within the same basic upbringing. I was a very outgoing child, happy to chat to strangers, not afraid of being the center of attention. My sisters were both painfully shy as small children. I wasn't afraid of anything, and they were afraid of everything. Now, as adults, my sisters are both confident and outgoing, and that confidence has been gained through trials and tribulations, the like of which I haven't personally experienced.  I've been with Steve since I was 19, and have changed in other ways.

If my sisters and I, who have the same genes, the same parents, the same childhood with the same rules and the same upbringing, can be so different from each other... then what chance anyone else of being exactly like me? There's no chance. It doesn't happen. No two people are the same. We all come to this point with a different perspective. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we never see things exactly the same for exactly the same reasons.

So what are the chances of two authors writing exactly the same story? It doesn't matter if you put two people through exactly the same writing class, with the same teacher, and give them exactly the same writing prompt, they will write two different stories. Because every author is different and comes to this point having travelled a different journey.

We see it all the time on Writing.com. Every day all the entrants to the daily contest are given exactly the same prompt. Do any of them write exactly the same story or poem? Nope. There are similarities sometimes, yes, but the entries are never the same. Take any other prompted contest and you'll see the same thing. Given the same prompt, authors will write different entries.

So if you take two authors and tell them to write a Cinderella story (not original in the slightest because by its very definition you are asking them to rewrite an existing story), will both authors recreate the original story the same as each other or even the same as the original? No, they won't. Because no two authors are the same. The setting may change, the characters may change, the motives may change, the reactions to the events in the story may change...whatever. You won't end up with two copies of the original story, you will end up with three different stories. Yes, they'll have similarities, but they'll all be different.

On top of this, the world is full of endless possibilities for ideas and inspiration. You can say that romance 'has been done', but that's a huge broad genre. You can say that 'rich boy meets poor girl' has been done, but there's still so much potential left there for individualisation. You can say that 'rich Prince meets poor orphaned serving girl' has been done, but there's still potential for originality. And on it goes.

Some famous romance writers have made a lot of money recreating classic fairytales. Eloisa James did a whole series of fairy tale stories, including 'When Beauty Tamed The Beast', 'Once Upon A Tower', and so on and so forth. She has also taken ideas from Shakespeare's plays before, being that she is a Shakespeare professor in real life. See 'Much Ado About You' for example. Plagiarism is a huge deal in commercial publishing. Eloisa James is a New York Times bestselling author, with more than 20 novels to her credit. Why has no one jumped up and down and called her out for stealing someone else's ideas? Because her novels are original. Because despite using a basic storyline that was someone else's, she has made the stories her own. And if you sat down to write a Beauty and the Beast book, you would too. Seriously, do you know how many variations there are on the Beauty and Beast idea in the current romance novel market? It's a well used idea. But each book is different. Because each author is different.

Unless you're copying and pasting someone else's words verbatim, your story will be your own, regardless of where that spark of inspiration comes from. Maybe your Beast will be a werewolf, or an alien. Maybe your Beauty will be a male character, or a fairy. Maybe Beauty is a bitch and needs taking down a peg or two. Maybe Beast is beastly in nature rather than in looks. You can tell me the Beauty and the Beast story has been done. And I can say, yes, it has. But it hasn't been done my way yet.
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