I was reading about this Japanese dance style written by a man who taught it. He said that the style was uniquely Japanese and few outsiders could really dance in the style properly. He said that he guessed that people from ancient cultures such as ones found in China, India, and some tribal people in Africa might come close, but anyone from Europe or North America didn't do it right, because their culture has one completely different belief about power and spirituality.*

He said that in Europe, people look up to find God. The power reaches up like a tree towards the heavens. European dance has people who look up, stand on tiptoes as if they were trying to fly away. European dance also focuses on beauty.

In Japanese culture, power comes found from the ground. Dancers focus on planting themselves sturdily on the ground and sink down into the ground when they wish to convey spirituality. This style of dance was also deliberately "ugly." It came into being after WWII and expresses agony, loss and defeat.

Anyway, in my fantasy story, I have a character who travels from a European style world to an Indian style world. He desires to study a form of magic that can only be studied in that country. He tries very hard. He's told that he's the best they've ever seen from his country, but he doesn't get it. He can't really get better than mediocre at it.

Anyway, I don't recall ever seeing a citation in a work of fiction. But I LOVE this guy's opinions about about philosophies about dancing. I think it would be a perfect way for my MC to get turned down when he applies for advanced study in the magic.

I don't want to copy it verbatim, but I really want to use the idea. What's the most ethical way to approach this? I'm not entirely certain that the guy is still alive. I think the article may have been written in the 80s. I could be wrong, but I can't guarantee that I could ask his permission.

*Regardless of whether you agree with this guy or not, I did watch several dancers on YouTube. I couldn't stand to watch Europeans dance the style. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was just "wrong" for some reason. After reading this article, I watched the Euro dancers, and he was exactly right. They didn't get down low enough and no matter how hard they tried to get low, they were trying to fight the urge to lift up. They also kept trying to make the dance "pretty." When it's meant to be very "ugly."

3 Answers 3


Plagiarism is an academic violation that applies to scholarly papers. It doesn't apply to works of fiction.

The whole point of a scholarly paper is that you're presenting something that you claim is a new and original idea or discovery. If you copied it from someone else, then your paper is a fraud. Of course you may use ideas from others and build on them, hence, footnotes to distinguish what is yours and what is someone else's, and when someone else's, whose.

But if you talk about a scientific discovery or a cultural phenomenon in a work of fiction, readers do not normally assume that you invented it. Indeed, it's very common to write fiction centered on some new cultural phenomenon. Science fiction often centers around a new scientific discovery.

Note the difference between plagiarism and copyright violation. If you read an interesting book about dance and copy sections of that book word for word into your novel, that might be copyright violation. (Depending on how much you copied it might be considered "fair use".) But if you copy the ideas and put them in your own words, there is no issue.

  • Thanks for correcting me on using the term plagiarism. I'm not too worried about copyright violation, because there's no way I'd even consider copying it verbatim. I am a little worried about accidentally doing some cultural appropriation. Many people think it's all fair game in world building and fantasy writing. I disagree. But after doing some research, I think I'm on the safe side without going hardcore PC over it. I wonder if my real fear was cultural appropriation instead of copyright violation or plagiarism. Opinion: worth a repost with title change?
    – Keobooks
    Jan 20, 2016 at 23:50
  • "Cultural appropriation" isn't something you can get into legal trouble over. If you're a college student or professor, and your college is very PC, you might possibly get into some sort of academic trouble. That depends very much on the subjective opinions of the people in charge. If you're not a college student or professor, then it's just a matter of your own ethics. At that point it's totally debatable. I'd say that incorporating elements of a culture into a novel in a way that portrays them as positive is honoring the culture. Of course if you ridicule them, different story.
    – Jay
    Jan 21, 2016 at 4:41
  • I was specifically wondering about the ethics of it. I don't care about the legal thing. I care about not doing it. I think that's why I probably wrote out the gist of the article I read instead of just asking without giving any example at all. I know people are all up in arms and over reacting to the term, but that's because there are lots of morons out there who have no idea what cultural appropriation actually is. They go out trolling the forums and blogs looking for white people with dreadlocks to shame. Real cultural appropriation is a serious. Being a twit is not.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 21, 2016 at 5:14
  • The ethical question of cultural appropriation might potentially be on-topic over at philosophy.stackexchange.com . You'd want to phrase it differently over there, however, to highlight the philosophical aspects. Jan 21, 2016 at 14:27
  • If the real issue is cultural appropriate and not plagiarism ... I was going to say you might want to edit the question, but at this point you've gotten several answers addressing plagiarism that would be rendered non-sensical. I suggest you post a new question.
    – Jay
    Jan 21, 2016 at 14:40

You're using inspiration from a real-life character in a fictitious world, which has been done by every writer ever. Utilizing a mindset you notice in real life in your work isn't plagiarism any more than setting your story in a location that actually exists.

Of course, that doesn't mean you should copy the guy's words verbatim from the previous article, but using the concept is perfectly fine. And there are tons of instances where authors will write a short blurb at the end of their novel describing which aspects of their story are based on actual events/locations or sources from whence their inspiration was drawn. If you really wanted to, you could acknowledge the man/original article in a similar fashion.

  • Thanks for correcting me on using the term plagiarism. I'm not too worried about copyright violation, because there's no way I'd even consider copying it verbatim.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 20, 2016 at 23:44
  • I put my stupid comment in the wrong section and didn't properly delete it all. Now I can't edit it anymore. Sorry. I'm a newbie still.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 20, 2016 at 23:52

Fictionalizing a philosophical/cultural concept isn't illegal, uncommon, or, in my opinion, unethical. Fictionalizing can actually help popularize a concept that might otherwise languish in obscurity.

If you are fortunate to get published, you might ask to have an author's note included at the end of the book referencing the original article --I've seen that occasionally done. I can't imagine that most writers wouldn't be completely happy to gain some positive extra publicity for their ideas.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.