Monday, June 2, 2008

Be Original!

The world hasn't run out of ideas for you yet. You can write that next great novel, that next great short story, that great essay you've planning for decades - and you don't have to copy the idea from someone else. True, someone else's work might spark your interest in writing, and you might find yourself scouring the library shelves on your latest research spree after you put that historical fiction novel down. But you need original ideas, and you certainly can't copy someone else's work.

But how do you avoid plagiarism? The Writing Place at Northwestern University shows us how through their "Avoiding Plagiarism" page. The page begins by telling us about the pitfalls of plagiarism, and what writers can do to avoid it. These tips involve changing your wording so that you properly acknowledge your sources, as well as acceptable paraphrasing so that you say things in your own words.

If you are planning to write a report, or if you need to do essays for work or school, read this page. You can also consult the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory for more information on how to write formal reports, and how to format them according to different scholarly styles.

Plagiarism can be harder to deal with in the world of fiction. Lawsuits have been raised over stolen plots and copied characters. In your opinion, how might such trouble be avoided? Is it possible, at all, to be plagiarism-free in fiction?


euthymic said...

how would you define plagiarism? because a lot of writers wrote fiction based on real people they knew. f scott fitzgerald always made his wife his main character and used lots of lines she said. truman capote got into lots of trouble for writing about people he knew though he fictionalized this. is anything really not a part of one's life? sometimes life is stranger than fiction, so you wonder if the fiction came about in such a way.

Rachel Everdene said...

Ah, that's a hard question! For some non-fiction writers, plagiarism can be as simple as copying three to ten consecutive words (that's hard to follow, especially if you really have no idea where your words are coming from!).

As for fiction, I don't think it's considered plagiarism if you take events from real life. A lot of fiction writers molded their characters after real-life ones, and they made really good books that way. Plagiarism might mean copying whole plots, storylines, and character names. That would be unforgivable, I think, especially when your characters have become such a big part of your life.