Whenever I see my cousin’s new wife, my favorite this to talk to her about is Cassandra Clare. Neither of us can stand her. My favorite complaint about her is that in one of her awful books,
Hermione Clary or whatever her name is has a pin that says “still not king” or “I’m the prettiest” or some other allusion to Clare’s own work! Admittedly, The Very Secret Diaries are funny, but alluding to your own work is pretty pretentious, imho. My cousin’s favorite gripe is laptopgate.
Our petty grumblings aside: plagiarism, what the fuck? That shit’s not cool. As it relates to Ms. Clare, the short of it is that she became a pariah (or not) in the Harry Potter fan community for copying down parts of a novel she liked in a notebook then typing it into her computer as part of her fanfiction and pretending that she had no idea.
I admit it: a million years ago, I wrote slash. I wasn’t so big in the fan community, but I enjoyed the people I met and the little bit of fanfiction I wrote and read. But apparently, and I had no idea this was going on at the time, it was cool with fanfic writers to put bits of dialogue from media they liked (Buffy or Angel, for example) into their stories. And this was ok. It wasn’t plagiarism. It was borrowing. Or something. Unless you did it too much or didn’t properly attribute your borrowed dialogue.
I think that shit’s not cool. I wouldn’t call it plagiarism, not if you’re giving credit, but what’s the point? Maybe it stems from the idea that if people recognize your words they will subconsciously like it more, which makes it not a far cry from fanfic in a way. Or maybe it’s just lazy writing. I couldn’t think of anything clever to have my characters to say, so they’ll just say what Anya said on Buffy last night. Or I couldn’t think of a plot, so my plot will center around that line in that Monty Python sketch. Or I can’t think of what slogan to put on a piece of flair, so I’ll break out something I wrote a million years ago that people thought was funny.
Then I realized, oh crap, I may have done it too. If I did it, it was completely subconscious. Which means, maybe I was judging people too harshly (though it’s hard to accidentally quote yourself).
In my story, one of my minor characters goes through great lengths to sleep with another character. Rationalizing it to himself, he said “the things I do for a fuck.” Several drafts later, I realized it was way to close to “the things I do for love,” what Jaime says before he tosses Bran out the window in Game of Thrones (which I read when I was high on Vicodin so don’t even remember very well). I deleted it.
Another character wants to learn more about being a werewolf, but no knowing how to research this, he goes online. My cynical main character says that online, he should only expect to find “self-mutilated parodies of nature.” I loved this and thought it was hilarious. But it was unfortunately from the computer game Sam and Max Hit the Road. I changed it to side-show freaks as soon as I realized it.
When my main character learns she’s a werewolf, at the big reveal the guy who explains things to her says “There is such a thing as werewolves, Ms. Black.” And today I’m wondering it this is too close to “You best start believing in ghost stories Miss Turner. You’re in one!” from Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved Pirates of the Caribbean, but I didn’t purposefully take this line. I don’t think that makes it any better that it was done subconsciously, but I think, if the line is too close, I have a duty to take it out.
All that being said, much later in my book, my werewolves are trying to break down a door and I describe them as “huffing and puffing and trying to blow a door in.” This is very obviously from The Three Little Pigs and was completely intentional. Also, when describing werewolf eyes, I wrote “better to see you with, my dear.” So I’m guilty. I did the same thing. I borrowed a line from culture and put it in my work. But in my defense, there is no way people will think those were my own words (at least, no one should). It’s a much more overt allusion. I’m doing it to draw attention to the older story, not trying to hide it. It’s also in the public domain. Are these just rationalizations, or is there really a difference between alluding to a fairy tale or ancient story and using a bit of dialogue from prime time television?