Let's Talk Plagiarism
by Thamiris and Erin
Let's Talk Plagiarism
by Thamiris and Erin

Let's talk plagiarism.  It's time.  And this is a talk: we want to raise questions, provoke discussion, and not point fingers.  We also want to hold up a mirror.  Don't look away.  Don't say, "That's not me!  How dare they...I'd  never...My stuff's not..."

What, after all, is plagiarism?  Aren't we all plagiarists?  We borrow our characters, our settings, our plots from HTLJ and XWP, and the writers there  borrow from mythology.   And certainly not all writers care if others blatantly copy them.  But some of us do.  Ever open an email and start reading what you soon realize is essentially your own story, except someone else's name is on it?

We recognize that, as writers, we all experiment.  We see an interesting feature in a fic, and wonder how we'd do it, then try it out ourselves. Fic, after all,  is always about influences.  Did you know the plot of Hamlet wasn't original with Shakespeare, that he borrowed this and other plots from earlier writers?  That's how authors worked in the Renaissance.  True greatness, it was felt, came from the clever twists and turns you imposed on your sources.  A strong writer would work within the confines of canon (does this sound familiar?), and then play with those boundaries, expanding or even breaking them, until the fic bore only a tenuous resemblance to the original.  Re-creation, not regurgitation.

Before you start screaming that we're not Shakespeare, let's face it: we are his sisters, in theory if not in practice.   Borrowing is inevitable, but the essence of good fanfic is to borrow,  then to play with that basic material, to push and pull and scrape and cut and amputate and polish until the final product is original.  Until it's yours.

So there's the theory.  What about the practice?  How do we avoid crossing the line between plagiarism and borrowing?

  • We ask ourselves who our sources are in the fandom.  We all have them, but sometimes we don't stop to consider who they are.
  • We take a good, long, hard look at our fic and ask ourselves how heavily we're relying on others for our plot, dialogue, characterization, structure.
  • We consider if we've worked as hard as we could to make our borrowings unique.
  • We find beta-readers ready to point out that,while imitation might be the highest form of flattery, direct borrowing diminishes our fic.
  • As beta-readers, if we recognize that someone has imitated elements of a fic, we point that out and offer suggestions to change/improve it.
Something to think about.

Thamiris is one of the moderators of the Ksares mailing list.  Erin is the former keeper of The Ares/Joxer index.

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