On Copying (part II)

Last Post I talked about the difference between macro level and micro level imitation, a distinction which is hard to justify, but I hope to do so hear.

If we consider the macro level to be characters, plot, setting and so forth, micro is the actual prose, the words, sentence and paragraph structure used to convey the story. I alluded to the fact that people usually care more about the macro stuff (it is after all quite a bit more interesting, and somewhat less pretentious to talk about). However in the, end the words we use as writers are the key to all the cool things we want to focus on in a story.



Broadly speaking copying or plagerising the prose of others is a no-go. In NZ an author and academic (can’t believe this was almost 10 years ago) had their reputation tarnished by lifting direct passages from other writers without any quotation or acknowledgement. As the linked article points out it was at most 2 pages from within a 500+ paged work and yet that was more than enough to call into question the writer’s integrity.

I guess (this post is must shorter than the other one) I point this out to highlight that when it comes to the prose level of writing, the line between inspiration and copying becomes much closer, as writers we are expected to use our own words. Sure play around with tropes, known plotlines, but your own twist on an already established character, but don’t steal words!

That said there are a lot of mechanics that I believe can be used, and used ethically and effectively when ‘borrowed.’ Using another authors scene structure, or studying the way they balance description, action and dialogue are absolutely not plagiarism in my opinion.

So I think the conclusion of both posts is working hard to recognize whats original and whats not in one’s own work. It makes sense to copy elements of other’s works in the same way we learn music by playing other’s tunes. Remember good writing is rewritten not written and creating points of difference between your own work and anothers isn’t a dodgy cover-up its a valid part of a creative process!




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