Friday, October 19, 2007

Living in Fear

Lots of things scare me. Flying. Oompa-loompas (seriously). Being trapped. The film The Changeling (watch it for Halloween). I don't particularly like spiders or water. I am made irrationally nervous by slugs and the idea of space travel.

But you know what really scares me? Plagiarism.

Not being plagiarised myself. That doesn't scare me because I'll cut a bitch. But the idea of plagiarising someone else, accidentally. It terrifies me. Sometimes I write what I think is a particularly pithy sentence. Almost instantly, I think, "Is that really mine?" And then I have to Google it. (Like this sentence, for example--a sneak peek from The Demon Inside!: Starting a fight with a Gretneg was never a good idea, even if that Gretneg was staring at [character name] as though [] was the only glass pipe in the crack den and it had been hours since [] last fix. [Yeah, I removed pronouns and identifying articles, so what? You'll have to wait to find out who it's about.] Maybe not the greatest sentence ever, but I like it. And immediately googled about five variations of it. Which, if someone's monitoring my internet usage, um, it's research I swear.)

See, I read a lot. As I'm sure do all of you. I have books I've read over and over until I've memorized them. I've had books I've read over and over until I've internalized them. How do I know something isn't creeping in? How do I know the line I just wrote isn't some long-forgotten-by-my-conscious-mind line by someone else?

I'm pretty confident at this point. I think after you're written for a while you get past that sort of thing. As my own voice becomes more clear and I grow more confident, I also become far more certain that what I write is mine, and only mine.

But the fear is still there, always. I can't imagine anything more horrifying than having someone recognize my words as actually coming from someone else. I can't imagine my reaction as being anything other than tears of shame and horror and the desire to remove every trace of the work from anywhere it's ever been, hide, and apologize profusely.

I like to think this is because I'm a rational person who cares about writing as a process, as a craft.

But maybe that's just me.

A few announcements:

Blood Will Tell has received 4 1/2 kisses (our of five) from Romance Divas!

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Read the full review here.

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Vicki said...

I'm with you on that. I won't even read something in the genre I'm writing until I finish the book.

My cp's current wip is amazing but that's not what this is about. In chapter six (I think) she has this great line. This was written months and months ago. Then a very well known author comes out with her next book in the series (like a few weeks ago) and omg, there is Laurie's line. Truly. Now this author didn't take it from Laurie she doesn't even know Laurie. But still there is the line. Kinda scary to think that something you wrote from your own voice has ended up in a well known authors book. That the two of you thought along the same lines months apart and now Laurie is taking out the line.

I mean it was something she wrote but she doesn't want anyone to think she took it from the other book.

How do you stop that? I wish I knew the answer but unless you read everything that's out there prior to submission there's no way to know that.

And the thing is Laurie didn't steal anything but still she's removed the line.

Angie said...

Congrats on the review! :D That was a fun story, definitely. [nod]

I've never really stressed out over accidentally copying something. I mean, if I don't know then I don't know, and trying to second-guess myself every time I come up with something cool would just drive my blood pressure even higher than it already is. :P

I know it's happened, though; there was a kerfuffle over a book of fairy tails Helen Keller wrote which someone claimed was plagiarized. It turns out someone had read her this book of stories when she was a child and she'd forgotten about it consciously, but then twenty years or however long later she wrote this collection of stories with a lot of similarities and even some duplicated lines. [wince]

It's awful to think about it happening, definitely, but.... I don't know. It's like worrying about whether some drunk is going to crash his car into your house. Yes, it might well happen, but worrying about it won't help. I work on not plagiarizing anything deliberately and just hope my subconscious knows the rules too. :P


Bernita said...

Don't think a charge of plagiarism should rest on the odd line.
I've also googled a pet phrase to find with chagrin, though rare, it wasn't unique.
And used in stories I'd never heard of.
Whole passages, now, are quite a different thing, as we have seen recently.

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Vicki, I had something similar happen to me once, and had to change my line. Which stinks.#

You're right, though. There's no way to prevent it. You just have to be vigilant about it and pay attention. Like I said, I think as my own voice become stronger I worry less. But it's still something I think about.

Thanks, Angie, glad you liked it! :-)
I wouldn't say it's a constant terror--I am occasionally guilty of overdramatizing to make a point--but it certainly is something I've thought about on occasion with a little thrill of fear, and something I try to pay attention to.

Exactly, Bernita. Sometimes it does happen. I guess I just would be orrified and my first instinct would be, um, the opposite of the one we're discussing. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Good review. Congrats.

I don't really worry about the inadvertent plagiarism thing. I have no doubt I've unconsciously borrowed a line here and there in my work, but it's likely to be only a single line or a phrase, and I don't think that really constitutes plagiarism. Plus, I don't think there is any way to avoid it once you've read enough and written enough.

BernardL said...

"That doesn't scare me because I'll cut a bitch" LOL! Great review! Don't sweat the small stuff, D. Bernita's right, it won't be an unintentional plagiarized line getting a writer in trouble.

Anonymous said...

"Not being plagiarised myself. That doesn't scare me because I'll cut a bitch . . ." LOL

I once plagiarised an entire poem. I was compiling all my works for a book and accidentally included a very special poem from a very special person. Luckily I asked her to proof-read for me and she cought it -she bluntly called me on it and I apologized profusely and felt (feel) like a real jerk about it. She no longer acknowledges my existance and I'm sure that plays a part in it.

Yes, DQ -it sucks for that to happen.

Huge congrats on the great reviews. -V95

bettie said...

Hee. Glad to know I'm not the only one who Googles my phases. I thought I was unnaturally paranoid.

My writing style is completely dissimilar to my speaking style. I love words, and have a pretty big vocabulary, but because I learned those words from reading and not from hearing them, I rarely use them in conversation for fear of embarrassing myself by mispronouncing them.

My first couple years in high school some of my English teachers suggested that I might have plagiarized or "inadvertently copied" some papers I wrote. It wasn't that they recognized anything. They just thought my style and vocabulary were "too sophisticated" for a jock with a low GPA (Math and I have issues).

Even today, when I break out something I've written in conversation, people will sometimes ask me, "Who said that?" And when I reply, "Me." They're like, "No, originally."

So, yeah, I'm paranoid. It feels awful to know that people think you've stolen someone else's work, when you didn't. How much more awful would it be if, through no fault of your own, they were right?

Anonymous said...

Plagiarism is horrible, about the worst thing a "writer" can do. But then, if they are a plagiarist are they really a writer? That said it does take more than a line to plagiarize. I just read a superhero novel and there is a character in it that is a witch and her eyes turn blood colored when she is using her magic. But I'm not going to change my story to make my character not do that for fear of being accused of plagiarism. First, it has an entirely different context in my book, and second, you can't copyright an idea.

Any agent or editor will tell you how remarkable it is that writers seem to have a collective unconscious at times and they will often individually send in in very similar stories. But these aren't plagiarized. Likely the writers don't even know of each other.

It's also not possible for you to read everything and avoid all similarities. I can understand how it might make you feel better to rewrite a line so it doesn't match someone else's, but I feel that if that's the closest you come to plagiarism you shouldn't be worried at all. You're obviously in a fair, honest frame of mind and plagiarism is on some level, purposeful.

What's worse, IMO is those who falsely accuse others of plagiarism in an attempt to ruin their credit. Katrina Strauss and HS Kinn recently really impressed me with how they handled their suspicious of Teresa Jacobs. It was obvious from their blog entries that they weren't trying to sensationalize their suspicions, nor harm another person's reputation when all they had was suspicions. Very classy.

December/Stacia said...

True, Charles. There's only so many ways one can describe, for example, snow. We try to come up with something new and non-cliche, but chances are someone else has already done it.

Thanks Bernard! :-) I thought that line might elicit a smile or two. I'm not paranoid about the inadvertent plagiarism, but it is a concern, all the time.

Oh, dear, V95, what a shame! I really wonder why she would think you did it on purpose when you then gave it to her to proof. If you'd done it on purpose wouldn't you have gone out of your way to hide it from her? Either way, it sucks to lose a friend. :-(

December/Stacia said...

Nope, Bettie, I don't think you're unnaturally paranoid. I think it's something we all need to be watchful for.

You should stop being afraid to use the words in conversation! Show those patronizing jerks who you really are.

Ah, old nemesis. Grg.

I agree, Michele. I think on some level, a plagiarist isn't a writer. If you're not the one coming up with the words, you're not writing.And that collective unconscious terrifies me too. When I come up with a good idea I try not to think about it until I can write it, in case it flies into the ether while I sleep and is transmitted to other writers. :-)

writtenwyrdd said...

Yep, I do that too, December. If it's a particularly good sentence (meaning I like it tons) then I sometimes wonder if I stole it. I know I borrow a certain manner of phrase once in a while on purpose, such as using a particular adjective in a certain way... and even that bugs me and I try not to do it. I haven't yet got to the googling of such sentences habit though.

Sam said...

I don't worry about phrases too much, unless I write one and it looks SO familiar I think I must have gotten from a book I read. I don't usually sweat it, I'll change it if it bothers me.

YOu can't copyright a plot, but it bugs me when I see a book that uses the same theme / characters that someone else used (like the Gone With the Wind / Blue Bicycle books.)

Homer once said that all the plots had already been invented, lol. And that was Ages ago.

pacatrue said...

I've sometimes stolen jokes and not realized it. I once posted about a routine that George Carlin did. I remembered a line I knew was his and mentioned it. Then I added a couple lines, which I thought were similar type jokes but completely my own. I later googled the Carlin routine only to discover that one of "my" additions was just the next line in Carlin's original skit.


Punny Yumpkin said...

The idea of inadvertent plagerism is a good one, but since there are so many stories being told in the world and so many writers striving for recognition. It is unavoidable in some ways to be completely original.
Good luck on your stories.

December/Stacia said...

I think the difference is some of us want to make sure our work is original, and some don't, written. I've intentionally used a certain turn of phrase too, to make an allusion, but there is a real difference, isn't there? Sigh.

I agree, Sam. That kind of thing really bugs me. (By the way, we were both right--Deswhatever originally lost the plagiarism case, then a French court overturned it. I still think she's guilty. I'd be thinking of switching Doctors too--or waiting around to see her and then telling her I think she's scum.)

Lol, Paca, you are so funny Carlin steals your bits!

Punny yumpkin! Is this the Halloween version of Scary Monster? With an adorable new look! Yes, it is unavoidable in some ways, but we try out best, eh?

Camille Alexa said...

I'm afraid of walking sticks, murky water, and accidentally using names of characters (or real people) who already exist, which seems kind of related to your accidental plagiarism issue.

Rebecca said...

well I'm scared of flying but must confess that I've never even thought about plagiarism
.....perhaps I should?

Congrats on the review!!