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I guess this is a question about inspiration versus copying. I recently came across a story that really gripped me both with the inspiration for an idea and at the same time a doubt I could ever write anything as ground breaking or well written.

I think it is that doubt that is fueling my concern. I'm not trying to take it verbatim and I'd like to think I'm putting my own spin on events as well as throwing in my own ideas. But I can't help bits of what I've read popping into my head as I write, which leads to my wanting to add a bit based on it. Not in the sense of I must crowbar this in but more they did this which could work well like this kinda thought. Is that just the normal creative process and Im just worrying over nothing?

Update: The basic idea of the story I read has a group of warriors battling to make their way through a magical maze to reach a treasure at the centre; which is the bit I really like. So writing a story about a group of adventurers each seeking glory to claim a dragon egg from an ancient dungeon would be different enough I think.

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I think it's fairly safe to assume that at this point, we're all out of original ideas and every story written is using an idea from a story already out there.

Crime fiction: a crime has been committed. An investigation needs to take place to (hopefully) bring the criminal to justice

Romance: Two people who should be together for whatever reason aren't. It could be that they're from feuding families or one of them is a vampire. The story is them working through what keeps them apart and overcoming it. Usually.

And so on through every genre.

If you're copying the other story word for word then yes, you're on shaky ground but the trick if you want to write your own story is to put your own spin and take on it. Make it different enough that people can see your words, your story, your ideas coming through and not some cheap copy.

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  • That's a good point now that you mention it. I can certainly see where you are coming from with that. I'm certainly not copying the story word for word. It is just a case of being inspired by a scene I see and thinking what I can do with that. I guess my problem comes that I like the story so much that I could work that process with every scene in it. Not putting them in the same order or always heading in the same direction as the original piece but the will certainly have been inspired by what I read.
    – White S.
    Nov 9, 2016 at 18:47
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Normal creative process would be coming up with an idea or twist based on your ways. There is no big harm reading alternative ideas, or getting caught by a specific one. If that matches so well to your own ways of thinking, story, writing, you may adapt it, and work on to fit well in your story.

Depending on your style you may want to keep this idea from instant processing. Keep it around for a few days, let the thrill chill down, and look for it some time later. If at that time it seems very out of league, and you can't modify it enough to blend in well, you better consider to leave the idea, because then it will become pure copying without necessary creativity.

Update: Involving Lew's answer, it is OK to be inspired by a story, and your setting is far enough from the source, however if you copy the mechanisms, occourance of events, the wave of thrill, etc., so if it gets same characteristics, pattern, it would still qualify as a copy. This is where I meant to rework them for your story, blend them in, make it fitting in there without being the same.

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  • Well, the basic idea of the story I read has a group of warriors battling to make their way through a magical maze to reach a treasure at the centre. Which is the bit I really like. So writing a story about a group of adventurers each seeking glory to claim a dragon egg from an ancient dungeon would be different enough I think. Some events are similar to what I read but not identical I hope.
    – White S.
    Nov 9, 2016 at 18:40
  • Involving Lew's answer, it is OK to be inspired by a story, and your setting is far enough from the source, however if you copy the mechanisms, occourance of events, the wave of thrill, etc., so if it gets same characteristics, pattern, it would still qualify as a copy. This is where I meant to rework them for your story, blend them in, make it fitting in there without being the same.
    – Sonic
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:26
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In plagiarism, you copy another persons words and idea.

As long as you're not doing precisely that you're fine! :)

Seriously, I copy stuff all the time. In my writing, there's a city that was destroyed by a dragon. Sounds like Erebor from The Hobbit, right? Well, my city is crafted entirely of ash because when the dragon destroyed it, its fire was so hot it vindicated all life and turned everything into ash. I just took a twist on Tolkien's idea. To be honest, I bet Tolkien took the dragon-burning-down-city idea from somewhere else. Dragons burn down villages all the time. For one place, I literally ripped the entire mountainous, foggy scenery from Tomb Raider 2013 because I loved it so much. I am so glad I played that game and got to see such beauty. Lara Croft is totally gorgeous too!

If you want, you can even take that idea I had and put your own twist on it. It really, really doesn't matter. Don't stress, just chill and write, it's great. I love some of the groundbreaking things I've read and have used them in my own work. Just don't copy everything, don't copy every event in order. If you copy the events and stuff, but renames places/characters that's still copying.

Just chill and write, it's so fun to write. Throw in your own ideas, slap together some new ones, put those in, take some ideas from others, add it all together and you've got a superb best selling novel. For me, a good mix of ideas that have been repackaged, new thoughts, good inspiration, that's what makes stuff amazing.

Do you want to know what I think about your work?

I think'll be great. Mix inspiration, new thoughts, stolen thoughts, cool stuff, put your twists on the thoughts you steal and beautifully integrate them. It'll be great! I'm so excited for you to get published, please tell me when you do so I can read it!

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Well, the basic idea of the story I read has a group of warriors battling to make their way through a magical maze to reach a treasure at the centre. Which is the bit I really like

Well, this is not an idea for a story, this is merely a setting for one. There could be an infinite number of things, happening in that maze, limited only by your imagination.

Is maze an original setting for a story? Of course, not, but neither are forests, cities, deserts, castles, islands, mountains--you name it--yet it never stopped anyone from writing stories about the events, taking place in any of them.

It is absolutely normal to be inspired by settings, whether real or imagined by other author, just make your maze unique enough by adding original details and watch for Minotaur.

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  • That's my thinking. Of course there is more to it in the way of characterisation and interaction but if I listed all of that my last post would have been two pages long. It's definitely the events that are my issue.
    – White S.
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:07
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The basic idea could be repeated a thousand times but in the different ways. Just look how many popular stories in literature have smth in common, as the many recent blockbusters seems to be created by the similar formula. I think, if it's about inspiration, you shouldn't just let it go. No single idea in this world is no owned by the human. Inspiration is like a voice from heaven or even higher

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  • That's true. Thats very true. I think I'm just gonna take your advice and go with my inspiration, see where it leads.
    – White S.
    Nov 10, 2016 at 17:10
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We are in the business of storytelling, and it is the telling, not the story, that sets us apart. Storytellers tell the same basic stories over and over and over again. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Friends go on quest for McGuffin. Friends have setbacks. Friends get McGuffin. There are only so many ways to vary the basic shapes of stories without them ceasing to be satisfying stories.

So what sets Jane Austen apart from Danielle Steele is not the story they tell, but how the tell it. This is not to say that there is not a market for the same story told in the same way. Some readers have endless appetites for the same basic love story told the same basic way, and Harlequin is set up to deliver it.

That formula fiction, though, is not a simply copy of something genuinely original. Formula romance does not sound like Jane Austen, just as formula fantasy does not sound like Tolkien.

You can write pastiche of the the style of good writers, but that tends to stand out as pastiche. Writing pastiche can be a developmental stage for a writer, particularly is you are inspired to write by a particular beloved author. But your need to grow past pastiche if you want to be an author of similar calibre to your hero. To do that, you have to read widely, exposing yourself to very different styles and different approaches to storytelling. Read outside your genre. Read outside you era. Read the greats. All this will enrich your literary pallet and get your imagination out of the rut of your favorite author's style.

In the end, though, it is important to remember that the reader is not looking for originality. (Specifically, they are looking for something familiar, something that will satisfy their existing tastes.) What they are looking for is poignancy. They want to be moved. They want to enjoy a vicarious emotion or experience.

Blatant copying of another author in the field, or pastiche, deliberate or not, will spoil that poignancy if the reader recognizes it. Suddenly it becomes about the book, not the story; about the mechanics, not the experience.

To sum up originality is not a goal. We all tell the same stories. What distinguished us is how we tell those stories. Avoid copyright violations so you don't get sued. (Copyright, not plagiarism, is what you worry about, unless you are submitting a work for a degree.) Avoid pastiche because it distracts the reader. Read broadly, deeply, and attentively to broaden your literary pallet and get your storytelling mind out of the rut of your favorite author or style. Or write formula fiction to the formula requested by the publisher and don't worry about originality -- it is not what you are being paid for.

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I just want to drop a general line to all who have commented on this little question of mine. What you guys have said has been very helpful. Hasn't exactly solved the problem but has helped me see exactly what the problem is a little more clearly. I hope to publish another question pretty soon that I would also like some opinions on. Hopefully this will let me get closer to an answer. Thanks again. White,

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