Friday, April 28, 2006

Stop, Thief! Get Your Own Damn Brain!

There’s been a lot of talk about plagiarism and fanfic abuse lately, and this won’t be a complete rehash of those topics, but they made me think about my own stupidity when I decided to write a mystery.

I thought it would be a bad idea to read too many, in case I discovered someone had already used a similar idea. At least if I hadn’t read it, I could pass a lie detector test and swear up and down that the idea really was mine.

It was a ridiculous, narrow way to think. In truth, there are only 6 or 7 stories, and everything is a variation off of them in some fashion. But I’m not dismissing creative theft.

It seems that every time someone comes up with a “revolutionary new idea” someone else accuses them of stealing the idea. While it’s also true that much of the time, the accusations are based on someone just trying to cash in, the writing world has been rocked repeatedly this year by scandal. Ch-ching. Authors have become a lawyer’s wet dream.

I’ve seen this on the small scale, too. When two people meet, one with a manuscript at home, one with a book just being launched, and their characters have the same name, live in the same small town, the murder isn’t identical but the victims could be twins separated at birth…

And though they both know they’ve never met each other before, both are suspicious.

In fact, it was part of the reason a writer’s group I know someone from stopped reading sample pages of new member’s work – accusations of idea theft.

Idea theft is serious, as is plagiarism. I got two bits of advice early on:

1. Don’t talk your ideas to death. Over-discussing a project in the works can lead to confusion, and it can also lead to inspiration – for someone else.
2. Don’t show your work to just anyone.

Both bits of advice came from an author, and I took them seriously. I won’t show wip’s indiscriminately. This is also part of the reason I have very little up about Ashes and Embers and nothing up about Past Transgression on my website. Are both manuscripts written? Yes. Am I talking about them? No. One person has seen A&E. Nobody has seen PT. Well, not counting evilkev.

It’s me on my little soap box for the day, asking simply this: If people think they can copy published works and not get caught, then why do people think their wip’s aren’t at risk of theft if they’re published in whole or in part on the internet?

Right, that’s me, off the soap box. And leaving you all with a Friday Funny. This joke came from Bonnie, who doesn’t dare post it on her site because she really is pure and good (what the hell’re you doing hangin’ round here, Bonnie?), but routinely puts up great jokes there to enjoy. Thanks for sending this one my way Bonnie! And if you’d like to see Bonnie’s walk on the wild side, read her comment here - I spit gin tonic all over the monitor, and I don't give that up easily!

The Horse and Chicken

On the farm lived a chicken and a horse, both of whom loved to play together. One day, the two were playing, when the horse fell into a bog and began to sink. Scared for his life, the horse whinnied for the chicken to go get the farmer for help! Off the chicken ran, back to the farm.

Arriving at the farm, he searched and searched for the farmer, but to no avail, for he had gone to town with the only tractor. Running around, the chicken spied the farmer's new Harley. Finding the keys in the ignition, the chicken sped off with a length of rope hoping he still had time to save his friend's life.

Back at the bog, the horse was surprised, but happy, to see the chicken arrive on the shiny Harley, and he managed to get a hold of the loop of rope the chicken tossed to him. After tying the other end to the rear bumper of the farmer's bike, the chicken then drove slowly forward and, with the aid of the powerful bike, rescued the horse! Happy and proud, the chicken rode the Harley back to the farmhouse, and the farmer was none the wiser when he returned.

The friendship between the two animals was cemented: Best Buddies, Best Pals.

A few weeks later, the chicken fell into a mud pit, and soon, he too, began to sink and cried out to the horse to save his life. The horse thought a moment, walked over, and straddled the large puddle. Looking underneath, he told the chicken to grab his hangy-down thing and he could then lift him out of the pit. The chicken got a good grip, and the horse pulled him up and out, saving his life.

The moral of the story? (Yes, there's a moral!)

"When You're Hung Like A Horse, You Don't Need A Harley To Pick Up Chicks!"

And now, I'm running off to check out JT Ellison's post for the day.


Trace said...

I can't tell you how many times I've had an idea and thought it was so new and unique, and then saw a book in the store based on the same idea. It happens all the time.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Well the old saying is "There's nothing new under the sun." Then there's the other saying, "Your unique... just like everyone else."

Honestly, I do get a little paranoid about saying too much about what I'm writing, even within my own blog. This past November, I actually told my blog's readers a teaser for the story in one of the book's I'm writing called "The Cold Shoulder." I've said nothing more than that beyond my word count. The other book, one I'm writing with my wife, I've only told my blog's readers the title "The Last VanDaryn" and that's it. I feel overly paranoid at times, but how can you be too careful with some of the stories of plagiarism we see in the news?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

OMGosh!!! That joke makes me laugh every time I read it, but if I posted it, I'd hear from at least a dozen Pastors...including my own!

Our church teens stop by my site, so I must behave!

BTW...LOL...I am neither pure or good...well, my DH says....nevermind! But I try! Soemthings are just too funny to throw away!

Bible says there's nothing new under the sun...that goes for ideas too...There are actually just 36 dramatic plot ideas (plus 1)...just new ways to add fresh twists and combine ideas.

If we were to really worry about stealing...other than blatant thieft...We'd have to stop reading novels...Who knows ten years later it may pop up in your memory and feel like a new ides...LOL!

JT Ellison said...

I agree with Trace. When I was submitting my first manuscript, entitled Mortal Trust -- as soon as I got the submissions in the mail, John Sandford's Mortal Prey came out. And of course I was subbing to his editor. I felt like I looked stupid, even though it was a fluke.
I have it happen with books all the time. I decided to focus a book on CODIS, the Combined DNA Index, because no one had done a book with it. Lo and behold, I start the story, out comes a book with a CODIS expert.
They say there really are no original ideas. It's the voice and characterization that make them unique. But Sandra's advice is good -- don't give your plots away.

Lisa Hunter said...

Speaking of using other writers' material, have you seen this fun checklist for fantasy writers? Funny!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, I know what you mean. Exactly. Just look at all those Ruth Rendell titles - what hasn't she done?

Bill, exactly. I'm the exact same way. I'll say more than the title, but not much. And no excerpts published. Absolute no-no.

Bonnie, I know you aren't pure and innocent. But you have the illusion of virtue that must be upheld! (joking. about which part, I'll leave to you to figure out!)

JT, it just shows great minds think alike! It is frustrating though. Hard to come up with a really original idea.

Lisa, LOL! That link is great! Thanks for that!

For The Trees said...

I just don't know. I understand not giving away your plot lines, I understand not posting parts on the blog, I understand not posting chapters sequentially on your website, I understand not talking about your book, I understand being secretive because it's so easy to get ripped off...

Then I read where the advice is 180 degrees out. Post chapters sequentially on your website. It at least gets your name out there, and people can see your work. Perhaps they'll buy your other books. Post excerpts so people can have a good idea of your prose style, your voice - which is unique, anyway. Put up a chapter and tell people to PayPal you a couple of dollars and if enough people pay, then you'll put up Chapter Two. That's been done by someone, too.

The problem is, there are no new ideas. There's only the twist you personally put on it. So I don't particularly care if someone else picks up my plot and writes their own book. It won't have the cachet mine does. I **DO** think I oughta keep quiet about my WIP, because someone who's infinitely faster than me COULD take my idea and whip out a great novel, and get it off to a publisher before I did, but what the hey? What are the chances of duplicate submissions, like jt said up above? As the number of writers increases exponentially (You GO, Baby Boomers! And tell your kids to make LOTSA babies!) there are bound to be simultaneous submissions everywhere.

And guess how many are gonna fall flat? Oodles. Tons. Vast Mass Quantities. An Infinite Number.

Which leaves YOUR work standing there, out-shining them all.

So I say, don't talk about it while you're writing it. And of course be SURE you ignore THAT advice, because you've GOT to get advance marketing buzz going, and you HAVE to leak a lot of your story to get that buzz going, and you've got to put up some kinda hints about the book so there's advance buzz...

Oh, yeah. Don't buzz anything until you've sold the book.

Well, if you've published your book through a free print on demand printer like, you just buzz from the get-go and post excerpts and do all the other marketing things you can think of. And plagiarizers be damned. If they come after you for plagiarization, your original order for a proof copy will show you beat them to the idea by months.

In a world gone berserk over suing for any little thing, you gotta step out somewhere. Otherwise somebody'll be suing somebody because they stole their face, because they look alike. I can just SEE that happening!! Just like hair those pictures in the books at the hair salons, point and say "Cut it like this!" and there are gonna be a lot of heads with that cut all over town. Let's see how long it is before somebody sues the salon over THAT! Or, sues the other person for choosing THEIR hair style.

Hell's Bells, I don't know what to say. I sure took a long time to say that, didn't I? Apologies.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"It at least gets your name out there, and people can see your work. Perhaps they'll buy your other books."

If you've got a book you're tossing and not promoting, by all means. I've written a few short stories just for my blog -there are links on the side, the 'can't believe you missed these' links are mostly stories.

But if you're actively marketing that ms to be published, it's a huge risk. People can see your writing style from your blog posts. It's one thing to give a bit of a blurb about the book - quite another to post excerpts of it.

And Stephen King made money selling a book online for $1 a download, but he has a name going into it, and after a while even he pulled it, despite a six-figure return.

But I know from experience getting people to subscribe to an ezine? Just about impossible.

So, the point being again, wip - I don't recommend posting it. I can write 110,000 words or so in first draft form in about 6 weeks without pre-plotting, so anyone who wants to take the chance with their stuff risks being found with someone who can write fast, but doesn't have my morals to inhibit them.

And spammers are proof there are a lot of immoral people using the internet.

Brett Battles said...

After the unfortunate incident with the chain saw earlier in the week, I've placed an order with Harley Davidson for the biggest hog they've got...

...perhaps that's tmi...

M. G. Tarquini said...

Don't let Bonnie fool you. She has designated stools at JA's and Jickey's and Genre Bendre dedicated an entire booth to her.

Sandra Ruttan said...

See Brett, you should always listen to smart, sensible women like me and avoid using your manly appendages to stop a chainsaw!

I was going to ask if you really had the spread of a horse but oh look Mindy dropped by! Hi Mindy! Thanks for bringing us back to semi-sweetness and light, lalalala.

Erik Ivan James said...

Good post, Sandra. Instructive. I've never ridden a motorcycle or, a horse from the underside.

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha. I love hypocrisy! First you entitle your bit "Stop, Thief! Get Your Own Damn Brain!" and then you rip off Robert Altman with that "there are only 6 or 7 stories" line...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yep, and I made a post about that later with the 6 or 7 supplied for me by someone else - certainly wasn't me claiming I came up with them or I'd have known how many there were.

But of course, you're supremely smug, leaving your name to what you have to comment on.