6

So, I'm writing a novella about this guy named Peter, who is an actor living in LA. In the fall, he comes back to his hometown, a small town in New Jersey, after a gap of three years. He has a large family, namely three sisters, a brother, and his parents. When he comes back to his town, he meets his youngest sister's good friend and the girl who lives next door, Sophie. Sophie is several years younger than Peter, and is in sophomore year of college. Naturally, when Peter sees the beautiful woman Sophie has grown into from being a little kid, he feels attracted to her. Now, Sophie secretly used to love Peter before he left for LA, but it was a one-sided love, and led to heartbreak when Peter moved to LA. Sophie's father is the sheriff of the town, and her mother passed away when she was in high school. It is a fall season themed romance.

Now, I was reading online, and I found a story on Wattpad that is quite similar to my story. The Wattpad story is a summer-themed romance. In there, the female protagonist, Martha is in college and eight years younger than the male protagonist, David, she is also his youngest sister's best friend, and she used to have a crush on him when she was a kid. David is a doctor, entering his internship. They meet again when they both go to David's family summerhouse for a vacation with their friends. Martha goes with David's sister and David goes with two of his male friends. They feel attracted towards each other. David, again, has a large family, consisting of four sisters and his mom, but his dad died years ago. Martha had a neglecting, unloving mother and her father walked out on her when she was a little kid.

Now, I know the plot of both the stories sound similar, but I had not read this story before writing my story. However, I'm worried my story sounds like a rip-off. The plot points, events, incidents, dialogues, everything is completely different. But these above similarities are there, along with two scenes. In a scene of my story, Peter watches Sophie undress from his room because they are neighbours and their rooms are opposite to each other with windows facing each other. And in the Wattpad story, David watches Martha naked on the docks as she goes out for a swim. Secondly, there is a bonfire scene in my story, and there is a bonfire scene in the other story as well. The bonfire scenes are executed completely different. But apart from these two scenes, and the obvious background similarities, nothing else is similar. The development of the romance in my story is completely different than the Wattpad story. The Wattpad story is a slow-burn romance, while mine is more like love at first sight. But, I'm still worried that the background similarities and the similarities of the two scenes might make it copyright infringing or plagiarism.

What would you say? I know copyright infringement and plagiarism are different, but would my story fall in either categories?

Thank you in advance.

5

It doesn't sound like either to me; if your words are different they are different. Plagiarism is straight up copying text from another writer. Copyright too. Similar ideas are quite common; the notion that nobody can ever write a love story including a bonfire and surreptitiously watching a pretty girl get naked is ludicrous!

That said, what you should beware of is this: The evidence of the Wattpad story proves to me you are employing clichés, and perhaps should be more imaginative. Not because you are doing anything illegal, but because clichés are boring and predictable.

Oooh, he saw the girl he was already attracted to getting naked. I have no objection to that on any moral ground, but I'd ask, what is the point of this? Does it really motivate him any more than he was before? It might be interesting if the girl wanted him to see her naked, and out of respect he turned away despite his attraction, and this hurt her feelings, and so on. That is a conflict to be resolved. OR: He catches her spying to see HIM naked.

In fact, if this is mutual love at first sight, is He pursuing Her this whole time? Is she just prey for him to catch, or just demurely waiting for him to take her? Or is she an actual human being making her OWN moves to capture him? What is HER strategy for landing HIM? Hopefully it isn't just hoping he does something. She can engineer ways for them to be alone, for example. Find reasons to touch him, to get his help, to drop clear hints she is available.

The same for the bonfire. Yes, it is a symbolic primitive driver of sometimes primitive behavior, including courtship and sexual activity. But there are other such drivers; caves (literal or metaphoric), the woods, even the skinny dipping; but what if she purposely got naked in front of him?

"Don't get any ideas, this is just swimming and nothing else," she said, kicking off her shoes and pulling her shirt over her head.
When he didn't move to do the same, she continued, removing her bra, and unbuttoning her skirt. "Maybe swimming alone!"

It is said great minds think alike, but that is not the case in writing. Great writing minds find original ways to accomplish these same old things.

3

First: Copyright protects the exact words (or pictures or sounds) used in a creative work. If you copy somebody else's story word-for-word, or copy large sections of it, that is copyright infringement and you can be sued. But you do not own a copyright to a general idea. There was a court cases years ago where a newspaper took stories out of another newspaper, rewrote them in their own words, and published them. The courts said that does NOT violate copyright.

It can be plagiarism to copy someone else's ideas without giving credit. But this is an academic violation. It applies to stealing the results of someone else's research, not to writing a fiction story. If someone talks about plagiarizing a fiction story, he's using the word "plagiarize" as a metaphor or an analogy. It's not really plagiarism.

So there are no legal issues here. Period.

It may be that if your story is very similar to someone else's story, that people will think your story is unoriginal. New writers routinely panic when they see even the vaguest similarity between their story and someone else's. Calm down, take a deep breath. If the only similarity between your story and this other person's story is that they are both romances, they both have a scene with a bonfire, and they both have a scene where a guy spies on a girl naked ... there must be thousands of stories that fit that description. Don't worry about it.

  • 1
    You're right about copyright referring to the actual content of a creative work rather than the idea, but wrong about plagiarism only applying to research. Plagiarism is any attempt to use someone else's intellectual property as if it was your own. You can absolutely plagiarize a fiction work. If you do, it may or may not be copyright infringement, which is the narrower term. – De Novo Jun 11 '18 at 22:56
  • 1
    @DanHall What I was trying to say was, there are laws against copyright infringement. There are no laws against plagiarism. That's an academic violation: You can get banned from scholarly journals or kicked out of school for plagiarism, but a court will not make you pay a fine. So while someone can say "you plagiarized my novel", even if true, there's nothing they can do about it besides shame you. If you violated their copyright, they can take you to court. If you want to say that I overstated the point or described it poorly, okay. – Jay Jun 12 '18 at 14:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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