Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rip-offs, Inspiration, and Coincidences

Lately I’ve noticed a number of reviews that focus heavily on comparing one book to another, instead of focusing on the pros and cons of that book alone. For example, I’ve read a number of blog posts and reviews, from people who obviously disliked Twilight, who point out all the ways a story is similar to Meyer’s vampire series. But “Twilight Copy-cats” aren’t the only books being labeled “rip-offs”. Have you heard these….

Image by AZRainman

Hunger Games rips off Battle Royale?

Harry Potter rips off Star Wars?

Percy Jackson rips off Harry Potter?

Eragon rips off Lord of the Rings?

LOTR rips off Harry Potter? (Which makes no sense since LOTR was written in the 50’s and Harry Potter came out in the late 90’s – but it’s been said)

And of course all the books that have been considered to be “Rip-off’s” of Twilight including Obsidian by Jennifer Armentrout, Promise by Kristie Cook, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.


Then again Twilight could easily be considered a rip-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and if you read The Vampire Diaries just like Buffy? you may wonder if Buffy ripped off The Vampire Diaries (which was written before Twilight and BtVS). So then is every comic book hero ripping off Superman? Is every vampire novel a rip off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which wasn’t even the first vampire novel)? Is every love story ripping off Romeo and Juliet?

My answer: No.

As readers we should stop focusing on these similarities, many of which are coincidences, and others are simply an author finding inspiration in another’s work, and we should start enjoying the stories we read.

In my opinion, everything has been done before. And as authors we are inspired by what we read, watch, and experience and we incorporate those things into our own works. That’s what writing is, taking something we know and twisting it to make it our own. That’s not ripping something off that’s being inspired. Even E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which was surrounded by controversy when it was discovered that it was originally written as Twilight fan-fiction, is an original piece of work. I personally have problems with how James wrote it, as her characters were originally written to be someone else’s, but in the end her finished story is her own. (Read more about this in The Legality of Fanfiction a Grey Area)

T.S. Eliot once said, “Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

Some of my favorite books lately are stories that take a classic fairy tale and twist it into something else. Are these books just ripping off the classics? No. They’re taking something wonderful and creating something new. After all, there are only so many master plots out there.

At the bare bones structure of any story you will find similarities with something that came before it. If you try hard enough you can find parallels between any two books, but unless a book follows another word for word (which would be plagiarism) there is going to be something different about it that makes it original. Maybe some stories are too close for your liking, maybe some stories feel cliché because of the concepts they borrow, but personally, I think if we could all stop comparing one book to another we’d all enjoy reading a lot more.

Even if a certain scene in a novel, bit of dialogue, or even the entire book was purposely inspired by another piece of work this does not mean that book isn’t its own original story. For me, unless a book copies another in a way that the entire story is spoiled by my knowledge of that book – which has never happened to me – As long as it’s a good book, I’m going to be happy with that read, regardless of similarities. In fact some similarities between a book I loved and a book I’m reading are a good thing.

Now I want to be clear, I’m talking about authors borrowing ideas in plot structure, concepts, character development, phrasing…I’m talking about pieces. To copy a story word for word, or so closely that you only make small changes is plagiarism, this is illegal and not what I’m talking about. (This is also not what T.S. Eliot meant by his above quote) But, I would like to think that we all learned the different between plagiarism and putting something into our own words by 8th grade English.

So writers, don’t shy away from writing that vampire novel that’s been eating away at you because you’re afraid it’ll be called a Twilight rip-off. Write what you love and work your magic to make it your own. You can’t appease everyone so at least write something you enjoy.

 For more information about “stealing” ideas check out this blog post Why Do Great Writers Steal

I hope reviewers will stop complaining that something rips off something else. Reviewers should feel free to comment on the similarities one book has to another, but they shouldn’t post nasty reviews demeaning an author of his or her creativity. Doing this only makes the reviewer look unprofessional and their review petty and unreliable. So please, reviewers, I rely on what you write to help me decide what to read next. And, those reviews that are 1-3 stars are sometimes the most telling about whether or not I would enjoy a story. But please, take the time to write a quality review that discusses the story and what you liked and disliked about it, don’t just a compare and contrast with the latest “it” novel. (Read 10 Tips to Writing an Excellent Book Review.)

What do you think? Are you sick of rants about rip offs? Are these books stealing from other stories or are these similar ideas inspiration creating transformative works?