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I've been writing a story, and recently someone came to me and said the characters are very similar to a couple of the ones in Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows, I myself read the series which inspired me to write this particular story, but the characters have formed their own storylines and have their own pasts, how do I know if I unintentionally made a ripoff of the characters?

The characters are Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghaffa (believe I spelled it right), mine are named Kassidy 'Kaz' Morgan and Violet (her real name is Natalie but Kaz had her change it). What makes the person think it is a ripoff is the fact my Kaz has a crows head cane (as does Leigh Bardugo's) and has a dark nickname (Reaper instead of Dirtyhands) but they earned them through different means (I think, been a few months since I read the duology). What makes Violet and Inej similar is the fact they both worked at a pleasure house (difference is, Violet actually does, Inej's debt was bought by Brekker and she owed her debt to him, Violet has no debt and only owe's Morgan for protecting her by helping him when he needs it).

Also, both Violet and Inej are love interests to their respective Kaz.

This really put a damper on me and now I am unsure whether I should leave things or just completely rewrite my characters and rewrite the rewritten characters into the scenes.

Have I really ripped them off from this other author? Or am I fine?

The issue isn't the story itself, just a couple of characters, one of them in particular which is Kassidy.

  • Without reading either the original or your writing, and based solely off the information provided, it does look a lot like fan fiction and not a standalone, and if you're working that hard to explain the differences, then the answer is yes, this will be perceived as a "cheap copy". – Thomo Nov 12 '18 at 4:18
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    You admit your story was inspired by the other. You used the MC's name and an obvious visual motif (the crow head cane, or whatever). The similarity has already been observed by a reader – We don't need to say "rip-off", but it is closer to fanfic or homage. A critic would say it is "derivative"…. It is not the end of the world. – wetcircuit Nov 12 '18 at 4:49
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    @Angel, We aren't here to say if it is "good" or "bad"… or if you are fine (whatever that means). I think our mutual opinion is that you have crossed a line and it seems too close. Consider your characters and story from the inside, and develop them a little. Re-writes and character tweaks are a normal part of the process. – wetcircuit Nov 12 '18 at 5:08
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    @wetcircuit, thank you for telling me that, that helps me somewhat, I'll see what I can do when I get the time to go through things – Angel Nov 12 '18 at 5:19
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It's perfectly reasonable to say, "Hey, I think it was interesting the way this character was so calm under pressure, I'd like to use that in a story of my own." But if you write a story with a character named "Larry Skywalker" who fights an evil galactic empire using a mysterious power you call "the Energy", that's either a rip-off or an astounding coincidence.

In this case, to say that your story, like someone else's story, has two characters who are in love, no problem, lots of stories have characters who are in love. To say the heroine works in a "pleasure house", common enough to not be a big deal.

But giving your character the same name as someone else's character, and an unusual name like "Kaz", bad idea. Sounds like a copy. (If they were both named "John", different story."

The crow's head cane is also distinctive enough to sound like a copy. If you want some object to be his symbol, just make it something else. Make it a lion's head dagger, or alligator skin boots, or whatever.

I've never read "Six of Crows" or your story so I can't say if the personalities are too similar. I'd suggest you try to write a brief description of the character from "Six of Crows", maybe 5 or so bullet points of his major personality attributes. Then see if this describes your character also. If so, you have a problem. "My character is strong and brave and so is this other character" is no big deal. Lots of fictional characters meet that description. Similarly for many other things you could say about a character. "He's a black belt in karate", "he's an orphan", "he has a scar on his left hand", "he won an Olympic medal in swimming". But if ALL those things are true of both your character and this other character, that sounds like a problem. You need to vary it up. Change at least half of them. Instead of being an Olympic medal winner, make him a pro-basketball player or some such. Etc.

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Yea, the similarities are there and they are evident.

There's nothing wrong about being impressed with another author work. The point is that sometime some concepts and ideas influence us so deeply that we need an external output to point them out.

As Wetcircuit and Thomo already said in the comments, the problem here is that while you believe those characters are different, the audience may not and they'll probably find that fastidious. As you stated:

  • Both the main characters share the fancy name "Kaz"
  • Both share an imposing nickname with dark overtones
  • Both have the same simbolic crow-headed cane
  • Both have a close connection with a female (lead ?) character who owes them
  • Both those female characters have a romantic interest in the respective "Kaz"
  • Both those female characters work in a pleasure house

It doesn't really matter if those things came to be in a different way (e.g., you mentioning the difference between the Inej owing an actual debt, while Violet a debt of gratitude). Probably your character are meant to be different, but either:

  1. You are being influenced by Six of Crows more than you think you are, and you're making your character similar, without almost being aware of it.

  2. Your character are different, but it's difficult to see through all the similar situations and imagery they have in common with the other couple.

It's as simple as that. In the end, only you can give an answer to this question, since you have the full scope of the story in mind. One similarity is pure chance, two might be a coincidence, three are homage ... four is a copy.

Think deeply who those characters are. What's their purpose, what they mean, what's their role to play in the story. Then compare your findings with your understanding of Bardugo's characters. Do they share the same role? Ambitions? Mannerism? Goal? Personality? Backstory in general (avoid the specific details)? It's fine if the answer of some of those questions is yes; it's not fine if they all are. If there is some major problem of imitation, you should be able to rule that out here and do some serious character redesign.

If you surpass that phase, you'll hopefully have a core set of differences. Ask yourself how those should come into play in the story. Maybe the differences didn't impress your reader. Maybe they aren't so evident. You don't have to struggle to show that your Kaz is not Bardugo's Kaz: if some core difference is there, from the previous step, it should be self-evident. So maybe there's something about your characters that you didn't write about enough, something that you've omitted. Maybe you've focused on the wrong concepts. Your characterization may be different, but the reader is led astray by the fact that there are some many visual cues reminiscent of Six of Crows.

So, the last phase would be rework on those visual cues. I'm suggesting doing this last because you don't want to turn your crow-headed cane into a raven-headed cane and leave everything else as is. It wouldn't solve a thing, if there is a problem in the previous two stages. But, if you are confident you've passed those, it's time to consider why you have to keep all those superficial similarities; yea, they are superficial, but then again, since they are not core concepts, why bother with keeping them? There should be some that you can change, exploring some other concept instead.

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    +1, and I will add it makes no difference if the similarities arose coincidentally or unintentionally, those facts are only in your mind and cannot be proven; only asserted. People that see the strong similarities (including agents that will be well read in the genre and will read your book before representing you) will then presume you are also lying about this "coincidence"; making you less desirable to represent. Readers will say "read Six of Crows, this is fanfic of that". – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Nov 12 '18 at 14:01
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Inspired by is fine. What you might want to do is distance them a bit. The ‘Kaz’ is probably the stronger link, might ‘Kaz’ become ‘Sid’?

The cane, if it is significant in the other work, might be best changed a bit. It could be a wolf or lion head instead of a crow.

We strive for originality, but every story has been told, we just put a different twist, a flavour of our own and make our story a shade different, but completely original concepts will not happen.

If you see strong parallels between those two pairs of characters, try changing something about yours and make them truly your own characters.

  • No, not the Sid part, I just know I saw Kaz and thought it would be a nice shortened version of Kassidy, as for the cane, I have been thinking of changing it, but his gang is represented by a crow clutching a heart in one talon and is called the Crows – Angel Nov 12 '18 at 4:19
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    "Kaz" is too unusual a name. As long as your main character is called "Kaz", it will be considered a rip-off of the other Kaz, and in consequence your entire story will be considered a rip-off of the other story, by publishers, agents and readers. Change the name. Change the crow. You must use your imagination, that is the burden of the writer. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Nov 12 '18 at 14:05
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    @Angel So ditch the symbol, and rewrite. That your cousin came up with the same name and symbol is meaningless; unintentional or not it looks like a rip-off. Get her to come up with something else that sounds cool, tell her you can't use "crows". Change it to an eagle, or shark, or leopard, or hawk. Look at modern football team names, like you they don't get to duplicate each other, either. Change your mind so he doesn't prefer to go by "Kaz", because Kaz is a deal-breaker. Do a global search and replace, it isn't that hard. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Nov 12 '18 at 17:06
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    Kas sounds like Kaz. I suggested Sid because it can also be a derivative of Kassidy. Why not Kasomyr and call him Myr? Using uncommon names in fiction tends to create a connection whether intended or not to others in which such a name is used. Common names are safer as they are common so not all characters named James are assumed to be Bond rip-offs. – Rasdashan Nov 12 '18 at 22:02
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    Kas is similar because it sounds so much like Kaz most people will assume you are copying. Nobody will care if you invent an excuse by inventing an uncommon name that you then shorten to sound exactly like the Six of Crows character. This isn't a court of law where you go free because of a technicality, this is about agents, publishers and readers making up their mind on whether you copied or did not, they don't have to follow any rules or listen to your logic. If you use "Kas" or "Kaz" or "Cas" or anything that sounds even close to "Kaz", you will be rejected for un-originality. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Nov 13 '18 at 14:07
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It's not uncommon for people to start off writing works that are either straight up fan fiction or so strongly "inspired" by someone else's work that they might as well be. And that's okay. What's not okay is publishing it and calling it your original work. But if you're writing for practice or for friends, then what's important is you're writing.

I'll give you an example. My spouse was super into writing stories for online role playing. All older superhero stories. He'd do loads of research on setting and other things not in the original, then bring out the already created characters. He and the group he worked with had tons of fun doing this.

He also wrote fan fiction. In particular, he had two characters he'd based off a lesser known superhero series. He changed them just enough that maybe he could have gotten away with it had it been published. He worked on this for years.

I'd been telling him for years that he should take all his research and side stories and original secondary characters and put them on to a totally original story with brand new main characters. I wasn't the only one. Over time, those two characters he had worked on became truly original characters.

Finally, he got enough practice and confidence in his writing and something shifted. He took those original characters and stories and created full scripts, took on a cowriter and artistic team and, after another year or more, landed a publishing contract. Issue two will be out in a couple weeks.

You probably don't want to hear that this story you're pouring your heart and soul into is for practice. (And who knows, sometimes straight up fan fic gets published as such.) But yeah, it's too much like the work that inspired it. There's no getting around it. Even if you change the name and couple other details, it's really just a retelling (or new adventures) of a story you read and loved.

And that's okay. You love what you're doing? Keep doing it. Just do it knowing what the reality is. You will grow as a writer and come up with worlds of your own to write about.

  • The main characters are the heart and soul of your story. Also look to the setting and other things you may not be considering. – Cyn says make Monica whole Nov 12 '18 at 16:16
  • Also the one is way different, as for Kaz, he also has one big thing the other character didn't: magic, but I don't know if that has any weight in whether or not they are the same, it just sucks since I've been writing this since June (not intended to be a fanfic, I literally sat there planning for three months for the storyline and spent another 2 creating their world) – Angel Nov 12 '18 at 16:21
  • Yeah, it sucks. Not having read the published story or yours, I can't say if this is fixable. I will say that it is common. – Cyn says make Monica whole Nov 12 '18 at 16:23

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