Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab



Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Plagiarism


Please do me a favour and read the below blurb.
When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago. 
When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell's life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. As the boys' dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties - the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.
What the heck is going on?

That blurb is from a book called Vendetta. It caught my eye on Goodreads because I had a story (Well, strictly speaking it was a "fanfic") called Vendetta that I wrote years ago. Interestingly enough, it was also about warring families, but let's not stop there. Because the fanfic was based on a boyband of five brothers, the main family in the story had five brothers.


First I was staring my my screen like:


But then I thought about my old story, really thought. To be honest, it's not the most unique story in the world. I don't even regard it as an accomplishment; it's just the coincidence of the five brothers that threw me. However, it's not the first time I've read a synopsis and my jaw has slowly dropped. And then I remembered the writer's dilemma...


NOTHING IS ORIGINAL

Are there any original ideas left?

Apparently... no. So then, why do we write? Why do we struggle to discover, both in writing and reading, our perfect story?

There are only like, 10 stories in the world. Some say 8. Some say 20. The number isn't as important as the fact that the point is there are limited ideas. But are there? Accepting that is kind of dismissing all the times we've read a story and fallen in love with it. If it was unoriginal, it wouldn't have that effect on us.


So... we've been lied to?

Even though the base idea may be the same, what makes us FEEL like the story is fresh is the elements the author throws in to convinces us that we haven't read this Avenge-My-Father or Girl-Meets-Boy story a hundred times before. The exact recipe the authors uses, of character, setting, and plot determines whether or not they'll forge a story that'll stick in your mind.

Anybody can make a fruit cake. But it's the way my grandma makes her fruit cake that makes it unlike any I've ever tasted, and the memory of it outlasts the rich flavour in my mouth. Woah-hoa, I haven't even told you guys that story! Well anyway, that's for another time.


But it huuuurts.

I know, baby. There there. *pats shoulder.* In my very first post on this blog, I talked about ideas of mine that were strikingly similar to other ideas. At the time, I felt really down about it. But now I see those ideas were simply weak. Besides, that same idea has evolved WAY past that thing I thought it was like. It just needed time to mature.


So how do I make my idea original?

There's a book my eldest sister had called Structuring Your Novel - she said it was brilliant and that it really helped her. I did an exercise in it myself that got me to narrow down precisely what story I was telling. But before that, I would ask myself some brutal questions.

ONE: WHAT IS THIS STORY LIKE?

You need to figure out what genre it is, then find out if something similar is already out there. If you don't know because you don't know the genre, you should be reading it. You should be IMMERSING yourself in it. It's very insulting to the fans of that genre if you don't do your research. This is why so many fantasy fans despise writers who believe fantasy is 'easy' and write something we've all read before.

But say you do know the genre, and you can't think of anything similar to your work... well great! This is where a blog comes in handy. If you pose the question in your post after your synopsis, your fans and readers will tell you if it sounds like something else.


TWO: IS IT SOMETHING THE READER WOULD EXPECT?

My first novel Karalan's Legacy is set into motion by Karalan coming back from the dead. Many stories feature resurrection, but few of them do so from the POV of the corpse. That's why I felt it was interesting enough to built a 200k+ story around (if you didn't get that joke, see my other post).

If the reader will expect it, how can you surprise them? How can you shake their beleifs down to the foundations? How can you make it a story that'll stick in their mind forever?

'What If' is a powerful tool for shaping your work. It gets us to move slightly away from our natural inhibition and write something that's a surprise both to us and the reader. The ending of the epic fantasy Tigana left me amazed, horrified and dismayed. I didn't like it because it didn't satisfy me or provide closure for some of the sub-plots - that's the danger of surprising the reader too much. But there is no denying that I will never forget that ending.


THREE: CAN IT BE MADE STRONGER BY MERGING WITH ANOTHER IDEA?

This is how most of my stories come into creation. Girl discovers magic. Cats can sense supernatural creatures. The world is about to end. Nothing special. But what if the girl discovered magic BECAUSE her cat sensed a supernatural creature BECAUSE the world's about to end?

Well, then you have my story The Cats and The Keys, for which you can find the Pinterest Board Here.

The great thing about this method is that the stories aren't always a perfect fit, which means I have to employ some logic and fiddle around with them until they fit seamlessly. What I end up with is always better than what I had before, and by that point it's so unusual and unique, the chances of anything being strikingly similar is unlikely.

Well... good luck!!
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Announcement:
Fiction Friday is back!

After some thinking, I have decided to post a short series. It will be urban fantasy and if I do it right, about 15 short chapters. Rating is probably...  at least 13+ (minor swearing). I'll post it on my blog (and possibly Wattpad) every Friday, beginning with this Friday.

But now I have a question for you. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE IN THE STORY?

If you'd like to apply for this Cast Call, leave your character's name, age, talent or superpower, 2 physical traits, and 3 personality traits. I may not use all of it, but it'll help. This feels so weird! I haven't done one of these in ages. Still, it'll be fun! To apply, you can comment, use the form, or pm me on Twitter or Goodreads.
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Ashana Lian .

Click for other Writer's Tools and Tips posts.
I also have an incredibly useful Writing Tips Pinterest board (ways of saying 'said' and somesuch).

Have you ever come across a book or any story in any media, that was unnervingly similar to something you created? Do you agree with the argument that there are "no new ideas left?" Just curious. =/

13 comments:

  1. Nope, there's nothing new under the sun. I realized that years ago, and now I'm just amused whenever I come across something with a similar premise to one or another of my WIP's. (And it happens simi-frequently). But the thing is, while someone else has written a similar story, it was someone else, and not me. I've never written this story, and I've never brought my experiences and passions to it before, and thus even though there are dozens of books that retell Sleeping Beauty, or have a girl rediscover a lost imagination, I'm still going to write mine.

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    1. Good! I'm glad to hear you say that. Even stories that are similar have major points that tell them apart, like the writing style or subplots - or as you said, your personal experiences that have fed into the story. I started planning a fairytale retelling some time back, but it's on hold for now because it was a distraction from my novel.

      If I should come across something that sounds suspiciously familiar, I automatically go 'WHAT??! Oh no!!' and then panic until I calm down a realise it doesn't affect me at all. Hehe. Thanks for commenting, and good luck with your WIP(s)!

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  2. Is this Fiction Friday thing real? As in...can I do it? Or is it something that just applies to your blog? I'm simply curious....I think it would be pretty fun to do. If I can do it, I will of course give you credit for this idea (if it's yours)

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    1. Yes!! It is real c: And I want to make it a weekly link-up, so anybody else can post their fiction on a Friday! I should get round to making a button and some rules for it. I will keep you posted! Hopefully I can have it done for this Friday.
      Also, if you want you can 'apply' for the short series but just leaving a comment saying you wanna be part of it. Then you'll become a character in my story!

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    2. & thanks for your cast card, look out for your name in the story. c:

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  3. I was thinking about this literally yesterday actually. I just finished reading a book about a girl who kills with a touch and only her boyfriend can touch her. And it wasn't Shatter Me either. At first I was iffy about the concept, but when I actually read it, the fact that it shared the same premise as another book didn't bother me because the rest of the book, the plot, the details, even the genre, was so different. I will admit to not liking to find books that have the same sort of plot or details as my books. One of my fantasy books has a magic system built around song. Imagine my disappointment to find that a similar magic system already existed in a book called Witch's Song (I think that was it). But then, the rest of my book is completely different, as are the details of the magic system. I think that as long as you make the story unique through the characters and the details, those few plots that exist are going to seem fresh and new forever.

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    1. Yeeeeah, see, even after I read the second sentence I thought of half a dozen similar stories and concepts, including Rogue from the X-Men! But you said, it's usually just that base concept that is the same. Also, sometimes authors don't get to choose what packaging goes with their book, so the publisher might end up slapping on a blurb that turns away people who think they've read it before.

      I also have a sort-of-magic system based around song, which I know has been done before (for some reason I thought of Jigglypuff, LOL not really) but in my novel it's not a central focus. Yep, I agree. There are ways to make your story stand out. Writers will always persevere when it comes to that, because we already know the staggering number of stories already out there! Thanks for commenting Imogen.

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  4. Funny, I read an article on a similar topic at a different blog not too long ago...

    Yes, I agree it's becoming harder and harder to craft stories with an original premise. But I don't think that's a bad thing. What that pushes us to do as writers is to find different ways of telling that story. It forces us to ask the question, "How can I set this apart from similar stories that are already out there?" Chances are, the way you'll tell it will differ from how Author A or Author Z does it, kind of like what Kendra said earlier. Every writer will bring their unique experiences, passions, and ideas to the table, and therefore will tell it differently than the writer before them did. It's hard to describe any other way...

    Example: I got the idea for my WIP after watching the first movie from Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. (I read Tolkien's The Hobbit a few years ago, too.) Of course, I didn't want to copy what Tolkien had done before or create Hobbit fanfiction. So, I decided to keep a couple elements (the quest / journey, different races working together), and then started asking questions like, "Well, what if there was more magic?" or "What if the protagonist was a female?", among others. The final result probably has traces of the original inspiration, but has totally taken on a life of its own.

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    1. Oh really? Do you remember what blog it was? I'd go and check it out.

      OHHHH GREAT ANSWERR! I love that it does push us to express our story in a fresh and gripping way.

      You said you were inspired for your WIP by an aspect of the Hobbit (I get inspired by Tolkien a lot, and I think - *gasp* what would happen if Blah Blah Blah? And then I have a new idea) and that's what gets many people writing. It's kinda different. But in the case of plagiarism, lifting the whole idea... I suppose I ended up wondering, is it plagiarism if you didn't know the idea was already out there? Kind of like what Suzanne Collins said about the comparisons to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. It made me think. (Quite specifically - research harder!)

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  5. Awesome post! I can't count the number of times someone has shown me a blurb that sounds exactly like one of my books in progress. It's always scary, but then I remind myself that these things do happen. Most of the time if I actually bother to read the book, I discover that it's not as similar as it sounded. Us writers face a neverending struggle to make the same old plot sound new and interesting.

    Love the idea of Fiction Friday :)

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    1. I knoww. I have a lot of ideas turning in my mind, so if one turns out to be weak I can use something else. But some of my friends take ages to come up with an idea, so if they came across something similar they'll be like: e_e

      Thanks! If you're writing something, you're welcome to join the link-up. It's open until the following Thursday.

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  6. Great post, like always! I definitely agree that there doesn't seem to be any 'original' stories any more, but there's a reason why we keep on watching films and reading books. Each author brings their own unique ideas to a story, and their own way of telling it. I have read so many books where the basic storyline is the same, but the books seem completely different.

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    1. Hi Charnell! Yeah, it's a tricky one to puzzle out! The thing with me is, when it comes to reading, the choice is so huge that I have little patience. If the blurb tells me a story I've heard before, I immediately dismiss the book.

      I feel like it's one of those topics that has no real resolution. We writers go back and forth between despair and hope. We are a crazy lot. c:

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