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January 16, 2020

On the forums, there’s been some chatter about people stealing your work. While plots can be stolen, the fact is that there are a limited number of plots. Therefore, EVERY plot has been stolen since that magic number, whatever it is, was reached way back when. That means that every writer out there today is a plagiarist, plot-wise.
Now, as for specific story details, or specific story ideas, they can be stolen to a degree. There can only be one Gone With The Wind, right? However, there are probably a hundred other stories almost the same, almost exactly the same, but they’re not.
Author voice.
Sure, it’s basically the same plot, same setting.
However, it’s a different author telling the story. Therefore we have differences in the telling. We don’t have Rhett Butler, we don’t have whoever the other characters are. They’re different people. We may still have the same settings, basically the same plot, but there are enough differences that fan boys and fan girls are going to dismiss these other stories as “similar genre.”
Yup, similar genre.
Where we have plagiarism is if every single detail, right down to the name of the town, the name of the estate, the names of the characters are the same or so similar, you’re reading the same book. THAT’S plagiarism.
While some authors may “steal” your idea about the great train robbery with Elvis alien babies, when they get down to writing it, it’s going to be in their voice, not yours.
Your great train robbery with Elvis alien babies is not going to be anything like his or her version except the general concept. Whichever gets to print first may supposedly have dibs on the “original idea,” but that doesn’t give them the copywrite on the plot. It only gives them the copywrite on their version of the story.
Look at how many sparkly vampire stories came out (gag) after Twilight?
Every time a bandwagon comes along, look at how many people jump on and try to cash in on a trend?
You can copywrite your voice, but not a plot.
Good question.
Voice is you. It’s how you go about telling (or showing) your story.
Voice is your personality shining through the words, the way you communicate with your audience/readers. It’s like a fingerprint, or DNA. No two are quite alike, no matter how much training or molding or editing you’ve had.
While sometimes the homogeneity of writing styles can make it hard to tell, voice shines through in the end. Each writer is unique, and no two tell a story in quite the same way. Even when there are two or even three co-authors, each has a unique style that can be spotted. Careful editing and of course, close collaboration blurs these lines. Some author pairs are especially good at blending together (Preston & Child for instance), and their combined voices work as one. Individually, they’re subtly different, but together, it can be hard to tell who wrote what.
That’s not usually the issue for the solitary writer. You either have or are developing your voice. Even as you work your way up, you evolve and shine through, taking your particular quirks through the editing process to the final product.
Your stories are you. Nobody else will be unless they’re deliberately emulating you.
There have been cases where a famous author has passed away and someone has taken up the mantle in their stead. It might be another established author, or maybe a relative. They attempt to emulate the style of the author. Some are more successful than others. Even then, the super fan can usually tell the difference from the original. The differences may be subtle, but the sharp individual can tell.
Voice is unique.
While plots and unique ideas CAN be stolen, it’s not likely, at least in the world of novels. Screenplays is a different matter altogether. However, we’re not here to discuss that world.
You, as a writer, have a unique voice. Use it.
Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2020 11:07 pm

    You are so right, Fred! There’s nothing new. As far as genre goes, steampunk is still science fiction. “Twilight” was a horror story. I have wondered if Lincoln & Child or King & Straub both contribute to the story but one does the final draft.

  2. January 17, 2020 12:34 am

    Thanks, Dee!

    I met Doug Preston here in Las Vegas years ago and meant to ask him a similar question about that but because of the “assembly line” book signing event, never got the chance. That’s a good question, which one does what part of the workload.

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