Plagerism Or Creative License?

I stayed up late to finish Jann Martel’s, Life of Pi so I would be ready to see the movie version the next day. How could such a complex, beautifully crafted allegory be adapted to the silver screen?  After seeing the movie (which I thought was very good) I HAD to know more about the author and where he got the brilliant idea for his novel. I searched cyberspace only to find that Jann Martel was accused of plagiarizing Life Of Pi. By his own admission, Martel had read a review of a novel with a strikingly similar premise, written by a Brazilian author.  Martel also claims he was never able to find, let alone read, Moacyr Scliar’s book.  Nevertheless, accusations were hurled.

As a writer wannabee I am always searching for new characters, new plot lines, new ways to string words together. But just when I think I have created a story that no one could even imagine, let alone put on paper, I find that MY STORY was stolen and is now a New York Times Best Seller. What psychic ability did J.K. Rowling use to span the Atlantic Ocean and pluck Harry Potter out of my head?

How many of my writer friends have had similar experiences?

All of them.

That is because there is nothing new under the sun.

I can craft a story involving a vacuum cleaner, a Chihuahua, an alien life form, and an elderly widower. Place them in Atlanta, Jamaica or Hong Kong. Write it first person or third person, from the vacuum cleaner’s, dog’s or widower’s prospective and somewhere, somehow, some else has had a similar idea. Maybe it is already published or still just the seed of a story in another writer wannabee’s head.  But writer friends, do not despair.  Short of photocopying another author’s published work, I believe it is virtually impossible for two people to create the exact same story.  It is time to stop using this as an excuse to throw your manuscript in the trash. There are only so many things to draw from in the universe, but there are also unlimited ways to put these things together.

So, sharpen your pencils, boot up your laptop, and dust off those ideas that you discarded years ago. What you write is uniquely yours. Get back to work!

2 thoughts on “Plagerism Or Creative License?

  1. Stephanie, what a great post!

    I’m reminded of the old saying “No one sees the world through your eyes, so no one else can write the story you can”.

    And I simply can’t wait to read your story about a vacuum cleaner, a Chihuahua and an alien life form, all written from the elderly widower’s point of view!

  2. years ago, I wrote a poem about about a boy who wanted to be an octopus. before I submitted it, I came across a poem written by a child that was so close to mine that it was stunning! there was no way he could have seen mine

    in another case, I wrote a multi-part feature for a magazine, which sent me a kill fee and then gave my material to another writer who used parts of it in her work, which was printed listing me as a contributor, something I hadn’t been told or agreed to. I couldn’t stop the publication, and because our lawyer didn’t act in time, neither could he because he waited too long. I got a lawyer through the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts who got the remainder of the fee I’d contracted for. But by then, I had no story left because my sources and pictures and material had been used. Writers beware!

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