Being a Better Writer: Knowing When to Borrow and How

Welcome back readers!

Yeah, I know. It’s Tuesday. I had a work shift on Monday. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But, as always, that doesn’t mean that the post won’t be made soon!

So, diving right into things: knowing when to borrow and how.

This is a tricky question. Well, or it isn’t. There are some people who worry about whether or not they’re borrowing or copying too much … and then there are those that just shamelessly go for it.

If you’re one of the latter, this post is not for you. If you’re one of the former, well, I have talked about topics before that have spoken somewhat about this. Worrying about copying, duplicating, etc, is a common fear for a lot of young writers, and sands, even longstanding ones. Remember Is It Original or Is it Copying? Well … yeah, that article was written for a good reason.

But today’s topic is different enough that when I saw the request, I felt it did warrant its own post. See, the request wasn’t about how to avoid copying something, it was how to borrow something that worked from another work and use it for yourself without crossing that line.

And the answer? Carefully.

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Being a Better Writer: Is It Original or Copying?

So, you’ve just finished your first manuscript. You’re excited, maybe even a little ecstatic, because at long last, you’ve finished the darn thing! You pass it off to someone to read, probably a friend or family member, and then they say a phrase that strikes terror down on your heart.

“Oh,” they say, staring at your work. “I get it. This is like The Lord of the Rings, isn’t it?”

It doesn’t have to be The Lord of the Rings. Nor do the words they speak need to be “Oh, it’s like this.” They might say “This reminds me of the stuff from Star Wars.” Or start talking about the similarities between your work and another author they read recently.

Regardless, you’re probably hearing and thinking only one thing: That this person is saying your work isn’t your own at all, but someone else’s. And now the panic is starting to set in. Maybe they’re right. Maybe your work is nothing more than a cheap rewrite of someone else’s. How could you not see it before? After all, your main character is an orphan boy who is taken to a strange place to learn magic, and that’s totally the plot of Harry Potter! You’re a fraud! All your work has been for nothing!

Or has it? Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, let it out, and cool those racing thoughts. After all, your story does star a young orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle who’s about to be taken away to a strange place to learn magic. That was Harry Potter, right? Wait, no … That was Star Wars … Hang on a moment; who are you copying again?

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