Thursday Thoughts: Accidental Plagiarism?

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Hello and happy Friday eve! I’m sorry if this post looks weird in any way – I don’t know about you but I’m a little confused when it comes to this new blog post format, so if anything looks off, it’s because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing!
So maybe it’s just me, but as a reader who loves immersing herself in the incredibly creative worlds of fantastically talented authors, I’m always wondering, “Could I create something like that?” I’m constantly attempting to write my own stories that would hopefully turn into a full-length novel, but I’ve yet to reach the end of one yet. The longest one I’ve started is over 40,000 words, but I realized that if I was starting to hate the characters that I’d created, there was a pretty good chance that everyone else would hate them too. I’m working on a second draft that makes them less… cringe-y.
Besides annoying characters, another reason I’ve stopped writing certain stories is because I realized that they weren’t as creative as I thought. I would be writing a story and would take a break to watch some BookTube, only to watch a video of someone talking about a book that seemed to have a very similar plot. I thought that book sounded really interesting so I started to read it, while simultaneously continuing to write my own. Before long, I started to realize that I was literally turning my book into that one. I had lost all confidence in my similar but slightly different plot when I knew that there was a New York Times bestseller out there that was clearly doing it better. I immediately stopped reading the book and took a break from my own writing in hopes that they would stop blending together. Can anyone else relate to something like this?
I think of it as accidental plagiarism.
If my seventh grade Digital Communications teacher is reading this: I promise I paid attention in your class. I know that there’s no such thing as “accidental plagiarism”, it’s either citing your sources or just hoping you’ll get away with it. Obviously it’s not really plagiarism since you’re not stealing direct works from someone else as claiming them as your own, but “accidentally adopting ideas from different stories until slowly it’s hard to tell them apart and then you feel really oblivious and uncreative and sad” doesn’t really have the same ring, does it?
They say that readers make the best writers, and in some ways I have to agree. We know what readers like to read because we’re constantly critiquing and deciding what makes a good book. We obviously have a good understand of plot and character development when we constantly fill our minds with plots and worlds that we completely lose ourselves in and characters that make us laugh and cry harder than many things in the “real world”.
However, our brains are also filled with so many fantastic book ideas that we’ve read that sometimes I feel like I don’t have much room for my own. How can I think about writing a middle grade without wondering how I can create something as fantastic as Harry Potter? Do I really want to write a violent dystopian, or do I just want to write The Hunger Games?
Maybe we’re too hard on ourselves. After all, as obsessive readers, we obsessively read many more books than your average person, and maybe we’re making connections to our own writing to obscure books that no one else will remember. But does that really excuse it? I can’t feel good about my writing when I feel like I’m making some cheap knock-off of other authors’. Or are the similarities even there?
Picture this: A kick-butt and smart girl, a sweet but strong boy, and a sarcastic yet lovable boy to complete the trio.
Who do you picture?
Katniss, Gale and Peeta?
Harry, Ron and Hermione?
Tessa, Jem and Will?
Hazel, Augustus and Isaac?
The group of three friends in my story that I ditched because it was too similar to other stories?
How is it that that description of characters matches with so many groups (not even just one character) from so many different books?Nobody accuses all of these very successful work of copying each other, and you wouldn’t really think that The Fault in Our Stars had anything in common with Harry Potter. But if John Green had wanted to, he probably could’ve convinced himself that he was accidentally plagiarizing J.K. Rowling’s work. Isaac’s blind? Harry wears glasses! How dare he copy J.K. Rowling in using characters that have vision problems.
Obviously when you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous, right? Maybe I’m the only one who does this. I guess I’ve convinced myself that all of the good ideas are taken, and that anything written now will never be huge, or completely original.
But that seems kind of crazy when you think about the fact that there was a time when there were no books about an orphan going to magical boarding school. Look where we are now.
Our stories are only as similar as we allow them to be.
However, I still totally believe that accidental plagiarism is a thing. Sometimes I’ve definitely been too hard on myself, convincing myself that a story I’m writing is too similar to a book that it will never top.
(Side story: All of that considered, however, in second grade I wrote a 10+ page story about an orphan that lived with her aunt and wasn’t allowed to leave her house until one day a visitor comes to fix their sink. The visitor told the orphan that she was actually a fairy and she had to come with her to help stop the evil fairy. Upon leaving, she met other fairy friends and they proceeded to go on tons of fairy adventures while getting their education at fairy school and trying to find a magical flower before the evil fairy did.
After finding this story and rereading it, I realized that I had just rewritten Harry Potter with Harry, Ron, and Hermione as fairies and Hagrid as a plumber with wings in a tutu).
I’ve started rewriting that story that I thought I ruined after being influenced by the similar New York Times bestseller, sticking to all of my own, completely original ideas. I think it’s okay if other works influence our works, or inspire us, as long as the other works don’t become our works.
All things considered, I’m still writing, and I’ll always be writing because I have my own ideas that I want to share with the world, even if I convince myself that they’ve already been done better than I ever can. I’m also refusing to read The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove even though it sounds absolutely fantastic because I have my own time travel ideas for a story and I refuse to let myself think myself out of it after reading something that is sure to be fantastic. The struggle is real.


I hope you enjoyed that post! Usually I monitor the word count on my Thursday Thoughts to make sure that I don’t get too ramble-y, but I have no idea where the word count is on the new format. On the bright side, if you’re reading this, you can assume that I figured out to post. Baby steps.
Let me know any of your thoughts on anything I said, and if you’ve struggled with similar things in your writing! Seriously – use the comment section to spew any thoughts going through your head. You have no idea how long it took for me to find the button to allow comments, so take advantage of my persistent searching! 🙂 I hope I didn’t make any NaNoWriMo participants rethink all of their thousands of words… I’m sure whatever you’re writing is fantastic and creative and going to be a bestseller and you’re INCREDIBLE for participating and doing what you love no matter what your current word count is or how sleep deprived you are.
Thanks for reading! 🙂

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13 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Accidental Plagiarism?

  1. You make a really good point! I’ve done this a million times too. Once I wrote a short story for an assignment and told the teacher that the story was about this and this. And the teacher would say, oh you mean like the book A? And I would stop and actually realize that it is similar. And I think this problem bothers me too :/

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  2. I think a lot of books are similar to a lot of other books–and it’s not necessarily a problem. The goal is to have a unique twist, to make sure something is original. If we want to be REALLY reductive, we would end up saying that everything is plagiarism and unoriginal–everything is just another book about someone on a quest to save the world or another rage to riches story. The differences are in the details and in the journeys the characters take. 🙂

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  3. I struggle with that as well. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though. You’re always going to remember things that you like when you’re reading, or watching something or listening to something. Sometimes I’ll start to write out an idea that seems really familiar to me, and I suspect that I probably read it somewhere before, but it’s impossible to keep every aspect of your story completely unique and original. I think it’s a good thing that we get ideas from each other actually! Sorry for the ramble! Great post!

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  4. I remember while I was writing my first book (and thinking it was ultra creative) I read a synopsis of a book that sounded like it had almost the exact same plot. It was a popular author, too, and I was devastated. I kept writing, though, because even if they were similar in plot, the stories were bound to be completely different.
    Also, I wouldn’t worry about this! Even if you feel like the description of your characters is similar to someone else’s characters, they’re still going to be YOUR characters with all of the traits you invented for them. Like how Harry, Ron, and Herminoe could be described the same was as Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, but that’s where their similarities end. I’d say keep writing!

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  5. You make a really good point! I have also wanted to write a book but then I stop midway because I thought that what I’m writing makes no sense, that’s why I delete them until I think of another story, and then I delete them again because someone has already written what I want to write. The thing is, having written the same plots can’t be helped because it seems like all the ideas in the world has been already taken. Though I have read books with almost the same plot, traits of character and scenes.

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  6. When I was younger, I was super extra worried about this aspect too, but then I realized that mass market historical romances were ALL the same (girl meets boy, they fall in love, something happens and they fight, boy gets girl back and happy ending), so I stopped caring, haha! I mean, if I could stay reading those kind of books forever (which I do and always love them), my readers could indulge some “more of the same” for the sake of my details 😉 Just my opinion, of course!

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