Plagiarism sort of fascinates me. Mostly because I am a reader, I think. And as a reader I absorb.
I absorb thoughts, ideas, fairy tales, story lines, dialogue… and sometimes when I’m writing I find that I can’t remember if what I’m writing came from a dream I had, a book I read, or a an actual idea that I am actually formulating as my ink pours from my pen.
I am re-reading The Mortal Instruments series, and with a re-read comes more review reading, more research, because I no longer fear a spoiler. So long after the scandal, I discovered this morning that Cassandra Clare was accused of plagiarism on a fan fiction site for a Harry Potter spin-off series about Draco. Not only accused, but her account was cancelled because of it.
I’m not defending plagiarism, it’s not ok. The idea that someone would purposely just copy someone else’s work turns my stomach.
But what if it is purely accidental?
What if you have internalized a work so completely in your youth that as an adult an idea, dialogue, plot points, come to you so wholly formed and you recall that it was inspired by something, but not necessarily who or where the inspiration came from?
I can see that happening to me. I read so much as a child and I cannot remember it all, but I do have to say that I don’t think a single idea I’ve ever had could actually be attributed to myself. They aren’t my ideas. They are the ideas of those who came before me. They are the ideas that came from authors I loved, and characters who became my friends.
I distinctly remember writing a story once, I was maybe seventeen at the time, and I was so in love with it. I thought, man, I’m good – this story is fantastic. I re-read it, I worked on it avidly. Then I realized, about a month later, that it wasn’t mine. I was re-writing The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Perhaps slightly in my own words, but the essence of it was entirely hers and I was forced to throw it away.
It was the first time I became doubtful that I would ever publish anything. Until then, I had been completely convinced that no matter what happened in my life, I would at least become an author in some capacity. It was in my veins since the first time I picked up a book and could decode the letters that made words and sentences. I had been writing stories and ‘books’ since I could manage to scrawl out a readable letter with my number two pencil. But right then, as a teenager, I realized my biggest fear – that perhaps I didn’t have any words of my own. Perhaps they all came from elsewhere.
That is when I realized what the biggest challenge would be for me to become an author – writing something original. How do you sort through all that you’ve read, all that you love, and find something that doesn’t already belong to someone in some way?
Because of this, my novella doesn’t have much in the way of plot points. The characters came to me, yes. I can write their essence, yes. But ultimately, I am terrified of plot points. I feel like they’ve all been written before. But people, people are always capable of being their own. Characters are easier to write than plots, because I’m surrounded by characters – they live in my head. Plots, on the other hand, only live in books that have already been written. Real life doesn’t seem to consist of plots so I can’t rely on life to deliver inspiration that hasn’t already been had by someone.
Logical fallacies, of course. But that’s how I feel.
And I can’t help but wonder if Cassandra Clare felt the same way from time to time.