Recently, I received a question about one of my previous posts Stealing: How to do it the Right Way. I thought that this question was a perfect example of the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration, so I asked her permission to post our Q&A as a continuation of that subject. Below you will find her question and my answer. I hope they help you out!
i wanted to ask you about your concept of stealing. see, i recently started writing a story/novel that was pretty much screaming at me to be written. however, i only got through the end of chapter one before i realized that it was shockingly similar to a short story i had read about a week beforehand. i stopped writing, but i think it was fairly good work. and since i REALLY don’t want to plagiarize against my favorite author, i have to ask: is the story of a half-angel who can feel when people need him and suddenly feels this suffocating need to help the new girl in school who has been damned to hell because she’s really a devil TOO similar to the story of a new boy in school who can feel emotions and notices an overwhelming pain coming from a girl whose heart has been shattered? (i’m sorry if that was confusing…) the former situation is in the short story by stephenie meyer in the book “prom nights from hell,” and the latter is my own plotline.
i ask you for your opinion because i’m sure you have MUCH more experience than me; also, i really do like the story — i felt a particular connection to the characters, which is a good thing, i assume — and i hope to continue it. i don’t think i can right now, though, knowing that it’s potentially infringing on somebody else’s work. i mean, i don’t suppose it matters, because i really doubt i’ll try to get this published, but all the same…
i really hope you can help me out a little. i don’t want to be stuck on fanfiction forever.
thank you so much!!!
Well, it depends. I do think that your story summary sounds incredibly similar to the Prom Nights From Hell story, but there is the possibility for it to be different. It all depends on HOW everything happens.
If you did research, I bet you will find numerous stories that could be summed up with that sentence: Boy feels girl who is immense pain and feels he has to help her. At the same time, each story is dramatically different. What you have to do is put your characters in a situation that brings out the differences rather than the similarities. For example, maybe the boy doesn’t want to help her at first. Maybe he never liked this girl and feels like she wouldn’t be worth the effort. Or, maybe this girl doesn’t want the boy to help her. Maybe, after whatever broke her heart, she is afraid of letting any guy get too close. Maybe the guy who broke her heart is the main character’s best friend, so he has to choose between believing whatever his best friend told him about the break-up and obeying his natural urge to help this girl who is in pain. Maybe that choice is even harder because he finds out the girl got drunk and cheated on his best friend.
There are hundreds of thousands of possibilities with a story like this. All you have to do is dress it up in a situation that makes it entirely your own. Get to know your characters; they’ll tell you where to go.