There is a fine line between inspiration, similarities, and flat-out ripping off.
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.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss
Each author has different tactics of writing. Some authors will work from sunup to sundown while others may have part-time jobs. Some may have a deep love for historical fiction while another has a deep love for romance. Of course, one specific set of writing methods isn’t the same among authors. However, there are some tips and habits that will be very useful to anyone who writes. They are important tips.
- Read. As I’ve said before: a good writer is also a good reader. Reading can introduce you to various structures of different stories. You can see what kind of books you like and which you don’t. Reading is the keystone of knowledge. Dr. Seuss once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.“
- Be Devoted. You don’t have to work from sunup to sundown everyday all week if you can’t. I don’t spend all day every day writing or revising. I like taking breaks to refresh my mind. That way, I can be mentally awake when I do write or revise. But you must always stay focused. Never procrastinate. Whether you are working on your book or not, write something every day, even if it’s in a journal. If you are one of those writers who like to work all day everyday, that’s fine.
- Respect Other People’s Work. This doesn’t mean you have to love everything you read. You can have honest opinions. But your opinion doesn’t have to affect your respect. I have met authors who’s books I don’t jump head over heals for, but I have much respect for the authors and their books. If you respect other people’s works, the more likely they will respect your own.
- Do Your Research. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction writers. A good story is believable. Whatever your subject, doing your research will make your story fly out of its pages.
- Have a Hobby. An author’s work is inspired. How can you be inspired if you have nothing to inspire you? Do what you love. Read (a really good hobby), walk, play football, build or craft things, help other people (another really good hobby), do whatever. If you do things you like, they can really help you stay focused in your writing. It will help you go far.
- Write Because You Enjoy It. This one is obvious, but important. You’ll have a much harder time writing a great story if you dislike it yourself. If you want to be an author, you have to enjoy what you do.
As you can see, there are only six tips above. There are more tips out there as well. Just remember that your work can be very valuable to the right people. These tips will help you become a great writer.
It is important to know the nature of the English language…
The English language is broad. Being the second-most spoken and most diverse language, it comes to no surprise that it differs from region to region. A person from Portland, Oregon will likely understand what a person from London is saying, but they might speak in a different accent and even a different dialect. It is important to know the nature of the English language as a writer.
One thing I had to be aware of when writing dialogue is the accent the speaking character will have. In The Tales of Draco, I use the typical American spelling (honor, color, scepter, etc.) in the narration because the main character speaks in that accent. But I use English spelling (honour, colour, sceptre, etc.) for characters with foreign accents, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the character’s accent is English. The spelling can also be changed in a way to put emphasis on how a character pronounces certain words. An example of the American/English spelling is used for Clipper. Clipper speaks with a Canadian accent, and words are spelled in the English style in Canada. Even though Clipper’s accent slightly differs from Jacob’s, it is still similar; so I still use American spelling for his dialogue. This contrasts with some of the dwarves and other characters where I use English spelling.
As I’ve mentioned before, when I use English spelling, it doesn’t always mean the accent is English. I use this spelling to indicate that the accent differs from Jacob and Clipper’s accents. You’ll see this American/English spelling more in future books in the series. When a character has a foreign accent, I use English spelling, even if the accent isn’t English. Sometimes the spelling will change in another way depending on the accent; it isn’t always English spelling.
I’m not saying the American/English technique is the correct way to add accent in dialogue. I’ve read plenty of books that use one type of spelling, even in dialogue. I just use the American/English technique in dialogue, depending on who is speaking. I only use American spelling in the narration.
If you ever decide to use the American/English technique, just remember to do it appropriately. Be aware of how you spell words in dialogue and most especially in the narration.
A good reader is also a good writer.
There are some helpful elements that can really help an author unlock his or her greatest potential. A good author should write often, of course. But one of the most important things an author should do is read. Reading is what moves literature forward.
There is a broad range of what an author can read, and it can influence what the author will write. For example, I love reading fantasy books. It’s one of my favorite genres along with classical fiction. I enjoy entering other worlds and experiencing things I could never experience on a daily basis. I will constantly return to books about dragons, adventure, and magic. It’s what gives the adventure to me. And because I love reading in the realm of fantasy, I also love to write in the realm of fantasy. Just remember, write about things you love. I love reading about dragons. That is why The Tales of Draco is about dragons.
Believe it or not, if I had not read some of the books I enjoyed in the past, I doubt I would have written The Tales of Draco. So if you ever decide to write a story, one of the best exercises for you is to read. Reading will give you inspiration. It’s inspiration that will move literature along. A good writer is also a good reader.
One of the scenes in Rise of the Dragon is the battle between Jacob and the Monolegions in the town of Preston.
One of the scenes in Rise of the Dragon is the battle between Jacob and the Monolegions in the town of Preston and the local high school. The following chapters then cover several regions in southern Idaho and northern Utah.
The main reason why I had the battle take place in Preston is because I live only a few miles away from the town. I have been to Preston countless times and even had my first few book events there. I know the layout of the town very well, so mapping out certain scenes was really easy (especially after creating scenes in New York and Europe).
There is one fun fact: Preston is the town where Napoleon Dynamite was filmed (my aunt and cousin were even in the movie!). However, the movie was not a factor in the book. I don’t make any references to the movie. Also in the book, the Bear River is mentioned, which runs just west of Preston.
Here is one of the scenes in the movie and me standing in the exact same spot.
And here is the bank of the Bear River where Jacob learns of Monty’s secret:
“This Royal throne of kings,
This scepter’d isle…
This blessed plot,
This earth, this realm,
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.
I started to think about the recent books I have read. I realized how many times I have read about foxes.
About two weeks before the signing at Conley’s Books and Music (Event Recap: Conley’s Books and Music with Christopher Paolini), I was reading The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix. I discovered that the novel is very different from its Disney movie adaptation, and much sadder too. What really kept me reading the book was how well the author got into the characters’ minds. The story alters from Tod’s point of view and Copper’s. Unlike the movie, Tod and Copper are not anthropomorphic, meaning they have no human intellect. As I read how Tod is trying to outsmart his predators or learning how to spring the Man’s traps, I can get a clear mind what a real fox would be thinking; the same way how Copper is deciding if the scent he finds is really taking him to where he should go. I really loved how Mannix made you enter the world of a fox or bloodhound. You get a clear idea how other animals think in such a way I thought was impossible.
After I had finished reading The Fox and the Hound, my brother insisted that I should watch Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the book by Roald Dahl. After watching the movie, I started to think about the recent books I have read. I realized how many times I have read about foxes.
One book series I enjoyed reading was Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. The story focuses on anthropomorphic (again meaning humanized) mice, squirrels, rats, badgers, and of course… foxes. In fact, the foxes were my second favorite creatures in the series behind badgers.
There are several other books and movies that I have enjoyed that revolved around foxes. I still like Disney’s version of The Fox and the Hound. When I started to notice this pattern with foxes, I realized that I actually like foxes in general. I never had trouble with foxes getting into our family’s chicken coop (though I might if the situation ever happens), and I find their vocal calls interesting. So what can I say? I enjoy reading about foxes. Who knows? I may decide to mention foxes in The Tales of Draco.
If you are interested in some of the books or movies mentioned in this blog, you can search them online: The Fox and the Hound (just a reminder that this book has a very sad ending) and Mattimeo: A Tale from Redwall.