Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
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yoyo123
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Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Postby yoyo123 » Tue Jan 05, 2021 7:17 am

So where is the line? Obviously people who read a lot are influenced by what they read. And beginning writers (consciously or not) try on styles of various writers they admire, write fan fiction, put new twists on old ideas, etc. Obviously no one should be using fanfic or revamped versions of someone else’s work outside of personal writing exercises, but when you try on someone else’s style or unique storytelling method (even if your plot/genre are unrelated), when does it become too close for comfort?

I recently binned a story after realizing my super creative storytelling method was pretty similar to something I’d read a while ago. Whoops.

Aaand, go!

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Re: Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Postby RSchibler » Tue Jan 05, 2021 8:09 am

Neil Gaiman says in his master class that imitating the greats is a wonderful way to begin. Most/many writers do that - and why wouldn't we? We start writing because we love to read, and we want to write the kind of thing we have loved reading. Of course we imitate the writers we admire. Plagiarism comes when you're copying the content, not the style. The standard advice is to keep writing, get your ~million words down, to find your own voice out of the collision of the writers and influences that make you unique. FanFic is a great training ground for dialogue, setting, character, structure. There's nothing wrong with imitation as a step toward our own original voice.
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Re: Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Postby Mr H » Tue Jan 05, 2021 7:35 pm

Starting to write without loving to read, I doubt I suffer from this ailment, or I'll suffer more from what I do read?? Aaaaugh! (Culkin style)

Think of all the great artists who studied under a master. Heck many top writers have classes, workshops, so on, so they can't be to concerned if people take on their style, they're teaching it!
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Re: Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Postby Reuben » Tue Jan 05, 2021 10:38 pm

yoyo123 wrote:So where is the line? Obviously people who read a lot are influenced by what they read. And beginning writers (consciously or not) try on styles of various writers they admire, write fan fiction, put new twists on old ideas, etc. Obviously no one should be using fanfic or revamped versions of someone else’s work outside of personal writing exercises, but when you try on someone else’s style or unique storytelling method (even if your plot/genre are unrelated), when does it become too close for comfort?

I recently binned a story after realizing my super creative storytelling method was pretty similar to something I’d read a while ago. Whoops.

Aaand, go!


I think the short answer is when you use specific examples as opposed to the general style. Like an author has the narrator make a certain joke about a teacher, and you copy it, consciously or subconsciously to fit your needs. (Yes, it happened to me.) Make up your own jokes.

On a related note, I recently critiqued someone's story which looked pretty much exactly like The Old Man and The Sea with a bit of a futuristic feel. I mean, there was the old man, fighting with a big fish, which he eventually got, but then lost in the end.

I told the author, "I think there are copyright issues here."

He said that he was simply inspired by The Old Man and The Sea, but that Hemmingway didn't own fishing stories, and this was a different story.

Whoever was right, I think that's too close for comfort. Others are welcome to disagree, but if anything other than style mirrors a particular author--be it plot, be it a small specific detail--I think that's "past the line".
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Re: Influenced by vs. too close for comfort

Postby AlexH » Wed Jan 06, 2021 12:23 pm

I haven't read them for many years but remember Steven Pressfield has three good articles on this topic, Steal Without Shame. Here's the first: https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/11/st ... out-shame/

On two occasions I've read a story that's sparked an idea that's led to a story of my own. I hate plagiarism by the way. If I share someone else's joke online, for example, I credit the comedian/person I heard it from.

My best WotF result came from a story inspired by a favourite flash fiction from another author. I'd say the setup and climax are very similar but also very different. If someone read my story and the other story alongside each other, I'm not sure they'd notice the similarity. I'd like to try this out one day. There is a vast difference in word count between the two stories.

The other story, I have out for submission, and two people who've read a few of my stories said it's their favourite. It was inspired by the sentiment of another flash fiction I love. If it gets published, I'll be interested to see if people guess which story it was inspired by. There is one scene in the story that has similarities to its inspiration.

So based on those two stories, using the inspiration I got from professionally-published stories has helped me, and it's something I recommend trying.

My current WotF entry, on the other hand, wasn't inspired by anything in particular I'm aware of. Yet a couple of people commented it reminded them of famous works I hadn't seen/read.

Sometimes inspirations are obvious and sometimes they aren't. When I played in a band, we were regularly compared to bands we'd never heard of, never mind listened to. One of our songs was reviewed as a "blatant Pixies rip-off" (it was actually a positive review), and none of us listened to Pixies back then. I know Fountains of Wayne purposely made songs to be like pastiches of bands they liked -- in that sense, Stacy's Mom, their most famous song, is a rip-off of The Cars. Yet whoever they copied, they always sounded like Fountains of Wayne. They put their own unique spin on what influenced them, which is just one thing I think we need to do as writers - be our own unique selves.

And if anyone happens to be a Fountains of Wayne fan, this "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" comedy sketch is very funny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vVJ2Om-QVg

The story Reuben mentions does sound like it could be too close for comfort to me, though I don't think mirroring a specific story's plot is necessarily an issue, as long as the writer puts their own spin on it. How many stories use the seven-point story structure? How many professionally published stories are inspired by myths and legends? Thousands, even to the extent where they mirror those myths and legends. But these stories are all different.

I think learning and being inspired by others is how we creatively move forward as the human race. Modern films are better for being inspired by greats like Alfred Hitchcock, for example. There are duds inspired by Hitchcock of course, but when it's done well, I think it's great for people to learn from past masters. They may not be everyone's cup of tea (is that a saying outside the UK?), but look what The Beatles did with music, in terms of the inspirations they took from and generations they inspired. In a general sense, generations of humans repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, so we don't learn enough (or even copy enough) from our predecessors.

Back to writing, and consider the influence J.R.R. Tolkien has had on the writing world -- yet he was one of the biggest 'thieves' going. I think one of his masterstrokes was taking inspiration from so many different sources.

I'm not quite sure what the line is, but I have a feeling that if people are genuine about their inspirations aside from an obvious pastiche, then that's okay. Do a Tolkien and throw tens/hundreds of inspirations into a pot and see what you come up with. Everything we write comes from how we've been shaped in life up to that point in some way. If something is a straight copy, you lose what's unique about the story you've written, and that's you.
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