I’ve had writers tell me that they are writing stories about a boy or a girl who turns into a dragon; or stories of a dragon trying to conquer evil. I understand that they are not trying to use my work and I wish the best for their stories to come forth.
I’ve talked about inspiration before. I believe it is a good thing. It’s how literature moves forward. But, as I have said, you must be careful. There is a fine line between inspiration, similarities, and flat-out ripping off. Stealing is not the same as aspiring. Ripping off is when when you intentionally take someone else’s ideas and make them your own.
Now if you are writing a particular story, it may end up similar to somebody else’s work. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is it stealing if you have a story about cowboys in Nevada because that idea has been used before? No. It is not too big a deal to have similarities with other works, just as long as you keep your work as your own. And you may even create similarities by accident. When I first created the Guarded Forest in Rise of the Dragon, it was originally called the Forbidden Forest. Chapter 19 was even called “The Forbidden Forest”. At the time, I was unaware that that same chapter title was used before. One day I was in a library and I was flipping through the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I came across a chapter titled “The Forbidden Forest”. I was a little frustrated at first, but I was soon glad that I spotted it. It had been years since I had read that book. Because I had noticed that, I changed the Forbidden Forest to the Guarded Forest. I did not mean to use the same name. But if I had not changed it, people may still say it’s ripping off, or worse… plagiarism.
You could say that you are paying homage to the original work. “Oh, I named this character, (famous fictional character), because I want to express my love of the original work.” It may make sense in your mind as the author, but that doesn’t mean all your readers will understand that. I believe it’s okay to show your respect for an aspiring author, but taking their work and presenting it as your own is not the best use of respect. A good example of homage that I can see is in Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. I don’t know if this was Mull’s intention or not, but I can see resemblance to Rowling, Tolkien, and even Riordan in a respectful manner. The book is still a fresh and unique story. I don’t see re-imaginings of other stories, I see it as it is.
If you try to retell someone’s story, your readers may see you as the person who tried to match yourself with that author. Ripping off other stories is not creative, and your story will not be creative.
Remember, it is okay to have similarities to other people’s works. It’s okay to be inspired. It’s okay to pay homage. But if you intentionally try to use other people’s work as your own, it will show. Your stories must be your own.