November 8, 2021
In an earlier post, I made a point about the importance of knowing what to write about, as well as embracing your inspirations.
Simply put, every writer is exposed to media, which then informs what they like or what they consider well-written.
This also influences the work that writers put out, because even if you do not utilize the tropes or plot structures or themes of your favorite story, chances are your best writing will be similar in syntax to your favorite writers.
That’s where plagiarism comes in.
Generally, plagiarism is what happens when a writer not only copies the content of an idea, but the execution as well, all without acknowledging the original source.
In an academic context, there are four distinct types of plagiarism according to the U of G Library YouTube channel: omitting in-text citations, cut-and-paste plagiarism, paraphrase plagiarism, and self-plagiarism.
Omitting citations involves quoting another source without stating said source, cut-and-paste plagiarism refers to copying a source without indicating it is a quote at all, paraphrasing plagiarism is when you rephrase an idea but you do not rewrite it enough to sound unique, and self-plagiarism happens when you rehash your own ideas.
Now as I mentioned, that is the academic viewpoint. In creative writing however, you can get away with keeping your inspirations close to the chest without directly acknowledging them.
For example, not many people know that George Lucas used tropes and iconography from Flash Gordon, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, or Sergio Leone’s classic westerns to make Star Wars, but it is all there if you know what to look for.
Again, the main thing that keeps creators like Lucas from getting labeled as hacks is their willingness to expand on their inspirations instead of just mimicking their success.
To paraphrase James McVitty, the main difference between copying your inspirations and truly being inspired is how your characters react to their situation, and the unique point of view that you as a writer articulate through your characters.
If you fail to firmly set yourself apart, then best-case scenario you will produce a work of art that will inevitably be compared to your inspirations and get the unceremonious title of a knock-off.
However, if you are proven to have plagiarized beyond a shadow of a doubt, you will wreck your professional career just as easily as you would ruin your academic career.
It is not worth it.