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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Revelation

In May, I published The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis , a story set in a war-torn land inspired by the Medieval Crusades, and following the...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Story Construction - The Line Between Influence and Cribbing

Note: Sorry if it's rather short compared to other posts, it's rather short notice.

Taking inspiration from those that have come before is common practice for any author, whether it's the scholarly writer of non-fiction, or a writer of the most outlandish fiction imaginable. But where does inspiration end and cribbing begin. To be exact, when I use the word "crib", I'm talking about plagiarism, that career-destroying sin authors commit when they either take heavy inspiration from or lift word-for-word from another work without acknowledging their inspiration/source. This is a problem with me for a very particular reason; with some exceptions, I don't have a good original visual imagination.

Yeah, that was quite a mouthful. I'll try to explain it. In some respects, I've an extremely active and visual imagination, as I'm an avid fan of visual media such as comics, movies, television and video games. In contrast, my spark of invention lies primarily in the written word, meaning the images in my mind are more akin to placeholders for the characters I create than actual visions of what they look like from the book. From characters created by artists to the visages of notable actors and actresses, I copy-and-paste to ensure I've got something there for when I create the scenes in my head. This tends to go hand in hand with how I can find sudden inspiration while going through something completely different from my story that's got a strong visual motif. Example; much of Crystal and Sin has a tone that took inspiration from both the anime series Cowboy Bebop and the American live-action series Firefly.

But that presents a very real danger. Where does inspiration end and cribbing begin? There's always the risk that the unwary author will take too much of something and run the risk of being seen as too derivative. Of course everything's been done at some point, and phrases or names will inevitably slip into our subconscious to be filed away for future usage. But when they begin intruding on your own thoughts and wishes, it becomes a real problem. I've abandoned more story ideas than I can count because they're just too derivative. Other ideas have needed massive modification due to the same reason.

Example: I have a wonderful idea focused around a world where humanity has become sterile, and its population is mainly replaced by artificial humans whose only difference is a slight blankness of look and are ruled by the last six surviving "true humans". The main plot is the mystery why one of the surviving humans is trying to kill the others. Sounds great. Except that I was inspired by the video game Drakengard 3 and the book series by Sean Russell starting with Beneath the Vaulted Hills, which have a very similar premise (a key figure related to something bringing an end to that same something). If the premise is strong enough, which I believe this is, it could be carried through. But if it remains verbatim, then I'll never be fully comfortable with it.

Another one barely worth a mention was a planned series that stank so much of the Earthsea and Inheritance books I dumped it after fifteen chapters, utterly unable to continue writing something that derivative. It led to the creation of something else slightly more original and promising, but its original form is dead and buried. And good riddance.

These are just two instances. There are dozens I can only just remember because the ideas came within a few days and left in just as short a time, or were modified that their initial derivative forms are lost for good. And a good thing too. The last thing I want to feel like is a copycat...!

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