Treading the line between Inspiration and Plagiarism

Every writer is inspired by another’s creativity, it’s just inevitable, yet everyone wants to have an original thought or idea, and no one wants to plagiarize, unless they are specifically writing fanfiction, but even that, as E.L. James has proven with her Fifty Shades series, originally a Twilight fanfiction, can be considered original enough with the proper tweaks.

For the record, the formal definition of plagiarism according to google dictionary is as follows:

“the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”

That’s pretty vague and the line separating inspiration and plagiarism is fuzzy at best.  Obviously everyone has their own ideas and concerns about the line, and I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought that it reminded me of another book, or that certain descriptions or names sounded really familiar to others in similar genres, as I’m sure you have too.  Is that plagiarism?

Well, I’m going to go through a few tips I use when I draw inspiration from other authors, and how I ensure that I don’t cross that line into plagiarism or some other muddled sibling.  And I’ll do it with an example.

One of the main sources of frustration I’ve personally encountered with my novel Isle of Elandia is writing battle scenes.  So, I decided to listen to an audiobook of the Iliad since it is one entire battle and one of the greatest books ever.

The Iliad is written so that the characters have unique personalities, the battle is expertly choreographed and visual, and it’s very heavy on the gore and details, I can fully immerse myself in the battle for Troy and that’s what I want in my own book!  So how can I do that without plagiarizing?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the differences between my novel and the Iliad, and every author needs to understand the same when they are drawing inspiration from another author.  For my own part, I don’t really want to drag out the battle scene, especially after several authors in my critique group say they skip battles that drag on and on, even when reading their favorite authors or series.  Obviously this point alone will make it a challenge to plagiarize, since a book length battle such as the Iliad is already far different than a mere chapter.

That’s honestly the biggest tip, recognize the differences between your novel and your favorite author’s.

Rather than copy battle verbiage or incorporate similar specifics, which would be very out of place in my novel in addition to plagiarism, zeroing in on methods the author used to draw in the reader and further the plot is an effective way to draw inspiration.  For example, at one point in the Iliad, the Trojans focus their attack on one part of the wall guarding the Greeks’ ships, which not only added strategy into the battle but also furthered the plot, since once the wall came down it introduced a whole new plethora of emotions, battles, and hero clashes, and it focused the heroes on an attainable goal for a short period.

The inspiration that can be drawn here in my own battle scene is to focus my heroes on a goal within the overall battle, such as sinking a particular warship, destroying a battering ram before it breaks down the gate, or some other strategic sabotage that will introduce areas where I can expand character development, further along my unique plot, and keep my readers’ interest.  My one battle scene is a scene, not a book, and because of this fact, adding extra details, gore, and lengthy descriptions of individual fights –while that drew me into the Iliad and made me feel like I was on the battlefield– it just will not work for my story because the purpose of my book is not to glorify war, and neither is my battle scene.  My battle scene’s goal is just to destroy this warship.

Sidebar:  I think too often authors try to describe too much in scenes, and some of it is more fluff than plot thickening and is due in part to trying to replicate another author’s ideas to accomplish the same affect and achieve the same success.  However, due to the fundamental differences between the two novels, it doesn’t have the same affect on your novel, and it’s borderline plagiarism and will lose your reader.  So again, recognize the differences, capitalize on them, and expand them in your novel.

So to summarize, plagiarism and inspiration can sometimes seem like a fine line.  But the first step to defining that line is to recognize the differences between your novel and the one you are drawing inspiration from.  Once you do, capitalize on those differences throughout your book.  Analyze the methods your favorite author used to keep your interest rather than replicating exactly how they did it.  Avoid sharing specifics in common, and avoid adding in extra details that don’t further along your plot.  Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you, and most likely it won’t.

If you find that there aren’t that many differences to capitalize on or that they are so minor (like only names or colors) that they can be overlooked, then it may be time to re-evaluate your novel.

Best of luck writing!

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Inkitt: Is it worth a try?

A couple of months ago I stumbled across Inkitt.com, a reader directed publishing platform that has seen popularity in the UK.  After researching a few publishing houses and having already tried my hand at self-publishing, I was open to new ideas.

Inkitt’s premise is that writers can publish on their site for free.  The books that generate the most interest are offered a publishing contract with them.  The founder created this site after learning that J.K. Rowling was turned away by big publishing houses more than 10 times, and was only considered by one when the editor’s daughter took an interest in the book and began sharing it with her friends.  Appalled by this, the founder of Inkitt decided to create a publishing solution that would allow books like Harry Potter to be discovered immediately and published.  In effect, weeding out publishing house error.  What a fantastic idea!

The terms and conditions to use their site is short and simple.  The author retains all rights to the work, can remove their content from Inkitt at any time, and other such author coveted ownership guarantees.  Another great aspect, is that you can publish your book as In Progress, so you can receive feedback from readers while you are writing it, which is awesome!  The Publication contract, should your novel be popular enough to be offered one, is also available to view.

The best part is that all genres are welcome, including fan fiction, and it’s free to read any novels!  It’s like having a Kindle Unlimited without having to pay for it, or a Library at your fingertips.

The user interface is also pretty easy to navigate.  There is an easy fill option for everything so you don’t have to worry about moving things around or arranging text boxes “just so”, it’s all done for you and is standardized so that the novel content is what is truly being evaluated, not how much it appears like a “legitimate” novel in comparison to the others on the site.

You have to have a cover image (and they do have a cover creator you can utilize if you do not have your own image), a teaser, and a hook.  These are excellent to supply on this publishing platform because those are what grabs the reader’s attention, so having reader feedback is invaluable to helping you get it right before you publish. It’s literally having beta readers galore!

I know what you’re thinking though.  “My work is just hanging out there for anyone to steal and claim as their own.”  I thought the same thing once upon a time.  The truth is, once your work is on the internet, it’s copyrighted, timestamped, and yours without dispute.  Having your work out there on Inkitt.com protects your work even more so simply because it’s a legitimate platform lauded by the BBC, The Guardian, and several other big names, and it’s blatant that you, and no one else, are the author of the work.  No one is going to steal your story, even if you aren’t technically “officially” published yet.

I also want to mention the Analytics page which allows you to track how many people have read your novel, and how many times each chapter has been read so that you can see trends and improve your story where you need to.  So, if you have 20 reads for chapter 5, and 4 reads on chapter 6, it’s a sure indicator that you need to make some adjustments somewhere between 5 and 6 so more readers won’t abandon you.

Additionally, Inkitt offers several other valuable tools for writers and authors.  A novel writing bootcamp hosted by the editor of the Song of Fire and Ice series, a writer’s blog full of helpful articles, and a list of promotional websites and tools for you to get your book more publicity and visibility.  I actually discovered and read a fantastic book –Bridge of Sighs and Dreams–  through one of those very links, and I will be posting a review on it soon, so stay tuned for that!

And it’s all free!  Just sign up with your email address and voila!!!!

I decided to give it a shot and test the experience.  My sister painted the cover for my novel a few years ago and it looks stunning and was simple and easy to upload!  Inkitt even throws in an ominous background (a distorted portion of your cover image) that makes the book resemble a promotional poster.  I am pleased with the way it looks on the website.  The featured image in this blog is a screen capture of my novel from Inkitt.

My novel “Isle of Elandia: Bloodline” is on the site as a work “In Progress”.  Currently, only the Prologue and first 2 chapters are uploaded, and since its debut on November 15, I’ve had a total of 19 readers.  None, however, since November 19th.  So that tells me that once a book has been out there for longer than a few days it probably gets buried beneath a heap of new publications.

Also of note: 19 readers is not enough to report chapter data.  I’m not exactly sure if this means that those 19 readers didn’t go beyond the prologue and therefore the chapter data is 0, or if there is a reader threshold higher than 19 that must be met to initiate, or  if there is a certain number of chapters that must be published in order to trigger a report for this more specific analytic.  I don’t know!  Time and experimentation will reveal, but I am definitely going to continue to experiment with it!

In a few days I will upload chapter 3.  My hope is that the new chapter addition will unbury my novel and put it back at the top of the list.  If I start seeing the reader number go up then I can assume that adding a chapter refreshes the book’s location.  If it stays at 19, well…. I will need to explore other methods to try and boost it’s visibility to readers.

I will continue to update my blog as I learn more through my publishing experience with Inkitt.  To learn along with me, please subscribe!  And definitely check out Inkitt.com for yourself, if not to publish, then at least to enjoy a free read on a fresh novel!

Review: The Immortal Serpent – K.E. Barron

I was very thrilled to receive an email from the author of Eye of Verishten requesting a review of her second book, The Immortal Serpent last year.  Due to having a baby and some other life changing events, I haven’t had the opportunity to review it until now.  I’m also very flattered that she gave my blog a shoutout on her front page.  So, here is the long awaited review of The Immortal Serpent!

The synopsis reads:

Always forward; Never back

Jeth, cursed at birth, is forced to leave his homeland and find a place for himself in a world descending into war.  Overnight, he goes from fervent soldier to desert thief who now must lie, cheat, and steal to survive in a hostile, foreign land alongside an enigmatic and sultry companion.

Across the ocean, Vidya undergoes a harrowing transformation into a winged weapon that will avenge her mother and save her island nation.

Their fates are entwined by the infamous Overlord of Herran.  One is running from him, the other is hunting him.  Neither can escape the Immortal Serpent.
Pretty attention grabbing description.  I’ve read the Eye of Verishten (EOT), written by this author, and was blown away by it, so I was very excited to read this one.  Just like with EOT, this author has created her scenes with familiar hollywood imagery that makes it easy to imagine, but in a way that sets it apart and makes it stand on its alone.  I’m going to first talk about the things I loved about this book.

The story begins with Vidya and her transformation, and it sucked me in immediately.  The intense imagery, the violence, the mythology, the emotion of the scene, it was all so intriguing I was hooked.  A very well done opening.  I’m a huge mythology — especially Greek mythology — buff.  And while the Siren colony in Immortal Serpent isn’t exactly like the Greek myths, it certainly resonated with me, especially being at the start of the book.  I love how the author took a well known concept and transformed it into something unique.

Then we switch to Jeth, the main character, and who we met in EOT where he played a side kick/comic relief role.  The author has maintained the comedic witty character here, and I’m happy that I recognize him in more than just name between the two novels.

The first thing I’ll mention is the dialogue.  There were so many excellent interactions throughout the book between Jeth and the other characters, and the scenes felt very organic and real.  The author is very talented in coming up with realistic conversations and witty phrases, and I was really drawn in by them.

I also appreciated the subtle references made to EOT, like little Easter eggs for fans through phrases here and there.  They were not overdone and were interesting.  Even with these references, they’re so subtle that this book still stands on its own… for the most part.  More about that later.

The map at the beginning of the book was a nice addition, it put everything into perspective as I read and eliminated the need for boring drawn out descriptions of where the characters were going.  There was a lot of traveling around in this book, and the map made it very easy on the eyes and brain to keep track.

Where EOT focused primarily on Ingleheim, this book weaves together many different regions, and she does it quite seamlessly.  There is a lot going on, but it’s balanced well.  At the root of it all and bringing all these regions harmoniously together is the mythology.  About 3/4 of the way through the book, this mythology is clearly laid out in one scene that I absolutely loved.  I really appreciate a good mythology, and the author has created a completely new world, with new gods, a new creation story, a new Apocalypse —  it’s fantastic.  I really enjoyed this piece and the book really picked up speed after this mythology is explored in depth, and I could not put it down after.

I really appreciated several of the supporting characters in this book, namely Snake-Eye, who at first seemed to just be a powerful overlord type but really ended up being a complicated figure more central to the story than I expected.  I also found humor in the fact that Jeth and Vidya held differing opinions on whether Snake-Eye was a male or female, which was never truly revealed to the reader, and that added some lightness to this character and mystery that I enjoyed.

I also liked the character Melikheil, the mage.  He is mentioned in EOT and is painted as a rather unsavory character there, but in the Immortal Serpent, his moral character is left to the reader’s interpretation, and we’re only allowed to watch what he does and judge him based off of that, which I appreciated.  I still feel like he’s a nasty person, but what he does in this book makes me wonder about his true motives, and it’s a good kind of curiosity.  So well done on that point as well.  I have a feeling that the author has a special place for this character in her world.

The book ends well and wraps up the main story arc, while still leaving a few things left to explore for book 2 – namely the origin of humanity according to the mythology, which I am very interested to learn about – and it also opens a new arc for Vidya and her conquest to save her island.  I find it fitting that the book should both begin and end with her, and both ends leave the reader wanting more.

Now onto a few things that I had some issues with.

Jeth’s love interest, Anwarr, is introduced as a sly, sexy, sophisticated woman who is out to get what she wants and is not interested in looking back or feeling sorry for whoever gets in her way.  She is a very strong character at first, and I liked her a lot.  As the book progresses however, she morphs into a sort of whiny, sensitive type that is common in most romance novels, and she quickly lost her sophistication and mystery, making some of the scenes with her and Jeth drag on.

I didn’t feel a real connection between them, and in fact, the whole time I thought their relationship was temporary until Jeth’s first love mentioned at the beginning of the book came into play.  When she never did, I felt a bit misled.  I would have invested much more interest into Anwarr and Jeth’s relationship if I had not been holding out for the other girl to arrive on the scene.  After finishing the book, why she was even mentioned at all is confusing to me.  There was very little conflict with Jeth in letting her go and starting his relationship with Anwarr, and it made him seem very shallow, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of his personality.  This other love interest was never mentioned again, and it felt like a tiny loose end that had a huge impact on how I viewed the entire story.

There’s also a very erotic sex scene that comes out of nowhere and does little to enhance their relationship or move along the story, and there is nothing for the reader to imagine since it is so choreographed and detailed.  The style isn’t consistent with the other sexual encounters Jeth has in the book either, making this one seem really out of place.  It didn’t help that I was a disenchanted with their romance at this point.

Anwarr’s true importance to the overall story snuck into the last quarter of the book.  The mystery surrounding her at the beginning was highly warranted for her part later, but somewhere in the middle it took a vacation.  I was honestly expecting her to disappear forever at one point, and not have such a key role.  Her final scene in the book was very heart-wrenching, shocking, and again, came out of nowhere, which redeemed her a bit, but Anwarr’s character seems to change and shift so suddenly throughout the book that she just seems lost between her great start and gripping ending.

More about the middle of the book:  There are lots of scenes where Jeth and/or Vidya are getting into arguments or fights with each other or another character, the typical “that’s my girl not yours” type arguments from Jeth, and the “I’m a badass chick who can snap men like twigs” type scenes from Vidya.  Scene after scene of brawls, thrown fists, snide back talking that turns physical, tables and shelves etc that are dislodged by some altercation or another, bodies flying, that it really became reminiscent of a 90s TV show, Xena came to mind.  Every episode of Xena has a fight scene in it, and every chapter, or so it seemed, had some kind of exaggerated tension, and much of it didn’t move the story along at all, it just slowed my progress through the middle significantly, and was very unnecessary for character development.  It is very clear by the opening scene that Vidya is bad ass female.  Same with Jeth, his strength, skills, and devoted personality is so well laid out early on that these scenes were repetitive, not to mention super choreographed and reminiscent of a screenplay more than a novel.

I mentioned earlier that this book, though taking place in the same world as EOT, mostly stands on its own.  Where it deviates from this is the part of the timeline where Jeth goes to Ingleheim.  The readers who have not read EOT will find this very confusing.  In the space of a paragraph, Jeth goes to Ingleheim and returns, and characters he meets in EOT are mentioned as though the readers of Immortal Serpent know who they are.  For fans of the author, this is not really a problem, and the Easter eggs may bring some nostalgia.  But for new readers, this would be highly confusing, and would seem to introduce new characters and story arcs that fizzle out immediately.  There is also an EOT bad guy named General Nadila who is brought in at the end and given no introduction, even though his interaction with Jeth makes it obvious that there is a previous relationship.  Readers who have not read EOT will be very confused.  Given that this book is marketed as a standalone, I really think it detracts a lot from the story.

In the end, the gods of the mythology actually start battling which I thought was super duper awesome!  I love bringing higher powers into mortal conflicts, it really makes me tingle, especially when the mythology is as good as the Immortal Serpent.  However, it felt rushed, and was given less attention than the brawl scenes that encompassed page after page.  For the overarching impact this battle had on the story, the attention given to it was severely underwhelming, and it had so. much. potential.  This was the climax of Jeth’s entire journey, and I wanted it to be EPIC.

Overall, despite the issues I had with it, I really did enjoy this book, especially the first half and the way the author wove her complex world together with so many different cultures.  The mythology, wit, charm, and mystery surrounding the novel’s main theme was very complex, well thought out, and kept the pages turning.  I will definitely be reading the sequel when it comes out.

The Immortal Serpent, by K.E. Barron, can be purchased on Amazon and through her website www.kebarron.com.  There is also some pretty awesome book art that she has up on her website too that brings a little more magic to her novels.

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