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So, I thankfully own a video-game history book which I anticipate using to write, rather, a Christian, family-friendly account of this subject. To be clear, I'm not going to be rephrasing from the book I own so much: I will be deciding on things such as how much detail of an event to write and what things to include in my book.

In preparing to write this book, can I use words from the kind of book that I'll be writing to rephrase with and overall, have a somewhat differing subject?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE, Nick. I did a huge edit of your title because it was very long and unwieldy. I moved it to the question portion of the body of the post. Then I put in a new title. If I misrepresented your meaning in any way, or you just don't like it, go ahead and re-edit the question to it's the way you want. Please do try to keep the subject on the shorter side though. – Cyn Feb 26 at 19:12
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When writing a book of your own, you absolutely can use other books on the topic as references. And you can quote those other books. In both cases, you want to credit the other book.

For quotes you put a citation directly into the text, or put an endnote or footnote and put the citation in there (or a combo of both).

For reference materials, most authors of nonfiction will include a bibliography at the end. You can also cite books in the text or in foot/endnotes if you are rephrasing something of theirs.

If your goal is to use this book as practice for your own writing, then, sure, go ahead. Henry has some great tips on how to do that effectively. But if you'd just like to re-write the book into a version that works better for your theme, the answer is no. Sorry, that crosses the line into plagiarism. Even if you give full credit to the other author and publisher, it would be republishing their work without permission. There's a limit to how much of someone else's work you can use.

Here's the thing though, if you want to write a history, you need more than one reference. Don't use just one history book: use a dozen. Use articles and websites and some original research if you can.

Because you are only interested in a subset of video games, you especially need a large number of sources. Most of the popular video games will be ones that don't meet your criteria and most of the books will focus on the popular games. Many of those popular games will be family-friendly of course. Depending on how you define a "Christian" game, the ones you talk about may be lesser known. In order to find the more obscure games, you'll need to scour those sources.

If you want to write about the history specifically of development of the games you include, your best bet may be to find the creators and interview them. The more general history of video games is easy to find already written, but who are the creators and producers of the games you want to promote? How did they get their ideas and get the games made commercially? Those answers might not be in existing books, at least not collected altogether.

If your sole goal is to re-write an existing historical account to meet your needs, that won't fly. You can do it for personal use, but not to publish (putting it on a website available to the public counts as publishing).

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There are two issues here: plagiarism and copyright.

Plagiarism is when you copy from another writer (or composer or whatever, but we're talking about writing here) without giving proper credit. It is very easy to avoid plagiarism: Include a proper footnote.

Copyright violation is when you use someone else's work in a way that could deprive the legitimate owner of sales of his book. If you copied someone else's book word for word and tried to sell it without getting permission, that is copyright violation. If you put a footnote on the last page clearly stating that this entire book is copied from someone else's book, it wouldn't be plagiarism, but it would still be copyright violation.

There's a clause in copyright law called "fair use", that says you can copy short portions of other people's work in certain limited circumstances, which include, for a book review, for educational purposes, or, as relevant here, for scholarly purposes. i.e. you can quote excerpts from someone else's book as evidence or examples of some point you are trying to make or event you are trying to describe, in order to debate opinions expressed, etc.

There is no fixed rule about how much you can copy. If someone sues you, the courts decide on a case by case basis. If half your book is made up of lengthy quotes from one other book, you would almost surely lose an infringement suit. But if you copy a few sentences here and there, from a variety of sources, and you surround them with enough of your own words so that the final product is clearly yours with some quotes from other people, and not just a rip-off of someone else's book, you should be fine. Odds are no one would challenge it, and if they did, you would almost surely win.

I'd say to err on the side of safety. Quoting a sentence or a paragraph here and there is fine. Copying several pages of text is not. Copying an entire chapter would almost surely be over the line.

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I would suggest a five foot / five minute rule.

Set up a table and chair at least five feet from your word processor and put the source book on it. Sit down at that chair and read for at least five minutes. This is usually enough for you to absorb the focus of the subject matter, the style of word choice and the overall feel of the source.

Then walk slowly to your word processor, leaving the source book behind. Write in your own words for at least five minutes, preferably much longer. Allow what you absorbed from the source to influence your work, but keep the work your own. Never deliberately steal words. Even if the source author said something exactly the way you want to say it, repeating those perfect words in your head as your race back to the word processor is cheating. Worse than that, it is the worst kind of theft. Plagiarism is a scary legalish word, but the truth of the matter goes deeper than that. As authors, our greatest creations are our words. When one steal another's art, it's more like kidnapping than petty theft.

The idea behind this technique is that you are trying to extract the style and content of a source without stealing exact words. I use this technique when trying to write certain types of scenes which I am not naturally good at. I have yellow highlighted and labeled sections in a shelf full of favorite books, which handle particular scene types artistically. When the need arises, I step away from the keyboard, sit down in my reading chair and submerge myself in another author's excellence. When I eventually return to the keyboard, I'm usually much better prepared and at least momentarily more skilled for the crafting of that challenging scene. Used in this way, abstract mimicry becomes an effective tool rather than a deplorable crime.

Keep Writing!

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