To Avoid Plagiarism

There is a fine line between inspiration, similarities, and flat-out ripping off.

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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 RowlingTolkien, 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.

The Library: A Place of Significance

Libraries are important in the history of civilization.

If you ask any author, most will say that libraries are great places. A library is one of my favorite places to be. Not only are there many books to read, but a library is a place of knowledge. Especially today, libraries are places of many resources. What should be known is how important libraries are in the history of civilization.

Libraries have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt. In those days, people were willing to travel hundreds of miles to visit a library. Stories and records of the great people in history were at the travelers’ fingertips. The long trip would be worth it. Today, we don’t have to travel mile after mile. But the reason why we visit a library is the same. A library is the sanctuary for literature.

When you look back in history, you may notice how big a role literature plays in the evolution of civilization. Ancient nations flourished in golden ages of literature. Think of ancient Greece for example. Greece was a nation that revolutionized the world at the time. At its height, stories of Greek heroes were being told and written down. Some of these stories are still told today. Now think of the Renaissance. It was an era of expansion and a renewal of culture. This was when the printing press was invented. Books were created by the thousands. Civilization advanced forward at a fast pace.

It comes to show that books are important to society. We will slip in an age of darkness without it. And libraries are the core of literature. They are significant pieces to our civil lives.

The Moral of a Story

Morals and themes are essential to a story. They are what make the story have meaning. Successful authors will try to teach their readers something, most often life lessons. Think of some classical works for a moment. There are many that are famous for their morals. Some obvious examples are Aesop’s fables or the use of symbolism in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. There are many other great works that have great morals, even if these works are not famous for having them. Authors like Tolkien and Lewis use many allegories that teach us valuable life lessons, and they are not the only ones who write to teach.

Stories that stand the test of time will always have some sort of moral or else they would be pointless. Our very literature in our world is used to teach lessons that will help us function as a society.

Inspiration and Literature Progression

As important as I believe inspiration is, it can be a little hard to understand.

I personally believe inspiration is a wonderful thing. It is what moves the good in humanity forward. I have plenty of inspiration while I’m writing in The Tales of Draco, and I have seen readers become inspired by my work.  As important as I believe inspiration is, it can be a little hard to understand.

One thing I like to do is not reread books I’ve read in the past, but analyze them. I study the story’s structure, the sentence structure, and what works and what doesn’t work well in the story. I don’t do this to put that story’s work in my own. but learn from it.

When you want your story to have creativity, you have to be careful with how you interpret inspiration, or else your story may just be a bland rip-off of something successful. You won’t be seen as the next J.K. Rowling if you just copy the exact same plot. Creativity comes if you study what worked for that particular book. Your readers may want something similar to an earlier and more successful book, but most don’t want the same story retold. For example, if you are writing in the genre of fantasy, it is good to incorporate elements that fantasy readers will enjoy in a brand new adventure that they have never endured before.

I have been inspired by other authors and I do have their writing influence my own writing, but I don’t want my series to be the next Lord of the Rings. I want it to be The Tales of Draco. When you want to be inspired, you must “use” the author’s work, not “take” it. Inspiration may be hard to interpret, but it is something that every one of us has. And it is not just in writing, but in everything we do.

Medieval versus Renaissance

Many fantasy writers try to recreate a Medieval setting. However, many of these settings are actually in a completely different era in history.

When we think of a typical fantasy story, we often think of dragons, knights, castles, and damsels in distress. Basically, the setting is comparable to Medieval England. As I’ve explained before, this is because this type of fantasy has its roots in Medieval England with the stories of King Arthur or Beowulf. In recent literature, many fantasy writers still try to recreate a Medieval setting. However, many of these settings are actually in a completely different era in history. The Renaissance came after the Medieval Era. This is when literature really began to move forward once again.

The Medieval Era didn’t really mean the end of advancing technology, but it was clearly a time of slow progression. Books were rare and expensive because they were difficult to make. After the terrible Black Plague, a new surge of energy swept over Europe. Technology advanced at an extraordinary rate. This was when the printing press was invented. Books became more common. New stories had biblical and mythological inspiration. This is the setting that many fantasy stories today come from.

Of course there are books and movies that have a true Medieval setting that are put together quite well, but more than few have a Renaissance setting even when many believe it is Medieval. Think of Beauty and the Beast for example. The main character, Belle, loves to read. We learn of the grand library in the beast’s castle. That gives us evidence that this was a time that books were common. We also know that Belle’s father was an inventor. The elements in this story come from the Renaissance.

It’s no crime to have either a Medieval or a Renaissance setting, though they can be overused. One thing we can learn about these two time periods is how important literature is to our society. It was during the Renaissance when we had great writers like William Shakespeare. The Industrial Revolution gave rise to the age of Romanticism with writers like Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne. There is yet another golden age of literature that began in the twentieth century that continues today (the twentieth century was called the century of the book). This shows us that literature plays a huge role in moving society forward. It is through words that moves civilization forward.

Is Europe Becoming a Cliché?

“This Royal throne of kings,
This scepter’d isle…
This blessed plot,
This earth, this realm,
This England.”

It seems in our fantastic literature, a European setting is what usually comes into our mind. This is with good reason. When I read fantasy books, I notice that the setting is often comparable to English, Irish, or Norse cultures. I actually quite enjoy this setting. I love reading about knights, castles, dragons, and adventures in lush countrysides. However, like any cliché, this setting can become too redundant in fantasy. The world is much bigger than a continent. I’m not saying that Europe is a bad setting. The Tales of Draco has its fair share of European influence, but I do not intend on having European culture be my only influence. I also love Asian, African, and Native American cultures as well.

So why is the European setting very common in fantasy? The answer comes from Medieval history. Many stories such as Beowulf and The Legend of King Arthur created the path for the fantasy genre to follow. These stories were created in Medieval England, so the setting followed. Even today, many settings take place in Medieval England; and to tell you the truth, the setting could introduce many other painful clichés. Even fictional languages have roots in Europe and before long, these fictional languages start to sound similar to one another.

If you ever plan to write a fantasy story, maybe change things up. Add some Chinese or Middle-eastern cultures. Taking a break from England once in a while may help your story become unique. You could even create a combination of cultures. When other settings are introduced, Europe can once again become the great setting for fantasy as it is and always will be.

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The Length of a Story

Does the size of a book really matter when it comes to the quality?

The size of a book can vary greatly, from a children’s picture book to the Webster’s Dictionary. Some readers love the long tales while others prefer shorter stories. Now do I believe Rise of the Dragon is a long story? I would say so. It’s not the longest book of its genre, but it is long. As I was writing Rise of the Dragon, I had to know if a long story will work best. Does the size of a book really matter when it comes to the quality? The answer is, it does. A story should only be long if it has to.

Here is a list to show how long Rise of the Dragon is by the number of words and how it compares to other fantasy works:

The latest update of Rise of the Dragon is 132,898 words long.

The Hobbit: 95,022 words

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone: 76,944 words

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 257,045 words

Eragon: 157,220 words

The Way of Kings: about 387,000 words

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: 36,363 words

It comes to show that there is a big variety of sizes. However, the longer a book is, does not make it better. Some readers would say C.S. Lewis’s work is better than J.K. Rowling’s work and vise versa. If you ever plan on writing a story, focus more on the plot rather than the length. If you try to make your story long and “epic” as possible, you could drag your story, making it dull and boring. Dragging is something that annoys many readers. A short story can still be “epic” if you have your focus on the plot.

Sometimes, though, a long story is necessary. The reason why The Goblet of Fire was such a long book compared the earlier Harry Potter books is because the plot had to make sense. Other times, the story should not be long. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters is nearly one-hundred pages shorter than the first book in the series. It may not be as long as The Lightning Thief, but the plot did not have to be as long. In the end, the plot moved at a good pace and did not drag.

In fact, the next book in The Tales of Draco series is shorter than Rise of the Dragon. As I was writing the story, I  was aware that it would be shorter than the first book. It did not have to be longer. If the plot moved in such a way that I had to extend the length, then the sequel would have been longer. As I am outlining the third book, I found out that it may be longer than the first two books, but I am not announcing anything yet.

Just remember that if you are writing a story, only make it long if it has to. The plot is more vital than the length.