During one of my book-buying binges, I came across a review where the reviewer speculated that a multi-published author potentially copied a story theme/premise/outline from another book written by another author—two decades ago. The reviewer compared similarities in the current story to the one written Two Decades Ago. She couldn’t name the specific plagiarism crime, but similarities in one person’s mind can get an author accused of copying someone else’s story in a posted review!
Now, I’m not saying plagiarism doesn’t happen. There are proven plagiarism cases where one author copied identical text from another author. A publicized case in the romance industry occurred between two established authors in the romance genre about 14 years ago.
But, what happens when, in the course of reading a book other than your own, dear author, you come across a scene that is similar to one in your own story? Phrasing? Verbiage? While the scene unfolds from a different character and author perspective, do you go ‘Ah! Great minds think alike’ or do you jump out of your chair believing that your words have somehow been stolen?
Here’s the deal. In my experience as a long-time reader, and now a new writer in genre of erotic romance, a writer might be hard-pressed to find scenes that haven’t been written before. To find phrases that haven’t been used before. Sex scenes, for instance. People have been having sex since at least the Middle Ages, so if a writer thinks they’ve got the 411 on a ravishing sex scene or sensual act that no one has thought of before, they’ve got another think coming.
Sensual hands on activity? Some scenes are more common, some less common depending on the sub-category you read, or write. Menage/multiple partner scenes, oral, toys…as long as I’ve been reading romances from sweet to erotica romances, and straight-up erotica—done, done, done. In my case, being married for 19 years has also yielded its happy share of sensual hands-on research.
Most authors know that their voice and style puts a different spin on the telling—and showing—of a story, or a scene. But I know of instances of authors who’ve felt their work, or ideas, were copied by others. There’s reluctance by some newer writers to have their work critiqued, or entered in contests. They fear their ideas will be lifted by someone else.
Food for thought: The chances of a writer wanting to steal someone else’s story is slim. Writers who are serious about their craft are too busy trying to finish their own tales to bother with anyone else’s. It’s more important to get an editor to want to read your story. Good luck with that if a writer doesn’t have their work properly critiqued by eyes other than theirs.
If a writer can think it, chances are the story has already been written. But, what makes a story unique and original is the author’s unique take—the showing, the voice, the style.
Unfortunately, there have been writers quick to jump to conclusions when they see a scene out there that strongly resembles theirs. That’s like saying nobody else has a voice. That nobody else has half a brain in their head. That nobody else can tell a story that’s unique. That nobody else has a life of experiences and adventures that can be portrayed in their words.
If that were true, there’d be no romance, since everyone would be falling in love the same way. There’d only be one cowboy story, one magnate story, one secret baby story, one bondage story, etcetera, etcetera. As a writer, I’ve seen instances where a verb I’ve used that I thought was so unique had already been used by another author.
As a reader, I’ve seen terminology used and commonly echoed. For instance, breaths that “hitch” and heartbeats that “kick” are common usage in romance.
Writers learn from other writers. That’s why we have conferences, and writers groups. To learn. And just because one writer used a word that another writer used (that can also be found in a dictionary or in daily urban usage) doesn’t mean there’s copying going on. It simply means that writers use similar tools, or have had similar experiences to be able to tell that story.
There’s plenty of room in the sun for a story to shine, in the writer’s style, their voice, their way. If a writer has a grasp on his/her own writer’s voice, they should feel confident that any work they put out there will stand on its own merit and hold to the author’s own unique style of prose, and story-telling.
This concludes my blog, dear reader. I shall go forth now, and write that fabulously hot missionary position scene that I’ve been dying to get on paper that surely no one else has yet to write… 🙂