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I am writing a short story which I plan to post on my blog, my motivation being partly literary and partly to illustrate some economic ideas within a plausibly realistic setting (ie not a fantasy world). (NB I am not asking whether this is a good idea.)

Although my characters are original, some of the ideas they express and discuss and circumstances they find themselves in, though expressed in my own words, are to some extent drawn from (non-fictional) writings by academic economists.

What steps, if any, should I take to avoid plagiarism? I want if possible to avoid any annotations within the story itself, which would be unusual within a work of fiction and impair the reader's experience. But I could certainly consider adding notes or references after the end of the story.

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  • "Although my characters are original, some of the ideas they express and discuss and circumstances they find themselves in, though expressed in my own words, are to some extent drawn from (non-fictional) writings by academic economists." Can you give an example?
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 16 at 19:32
  • @F1Krazy For example, two village women in a poor country discuss a local dispute about land ownership, and one comments that the government cannot resolve it because it has never undertaken a survey so doesn't have the necessary information. I first encountered this idea from reading Hernando De Soto's book The Mystery of Capital. Jan 16 at 19:53
  • Plagiarism isn't a legal concept, and isn't something you can be sued or jailed for; it is however punished by academic institutions. Are you worried about being sued for breach of copyright or other IP infringements; being punished by a college/university/etc for plagiarism; don't have worries about being punished but want to give as much credit as possible to be moral; or want to provide useful links for further reading? You could certainly provide a list of references, or write an afterword listing sources, but if it's for college may want to consult with your teachers about what's best.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 18 at 17:03
  • @StuartF Thank you, it's helpful to be reminded that plagiarism isn't a legal concept. This isn't for college and I don't think it will breach copyright. My concern is just to be a good online citizen by giving credit where due. Jan 18 at 18:39

2 Answers 2

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Ergo cum grano salis.

I don't think it's strictly necessary to do anything.

Using academic ideas in fiction isn't generally considered plagiarism even when you leave your sources unmentioned (as long as you're honest if anyone asks). It's assumed that you did any research you deemed necessary and will be drawing from that.

But if you want to provide explanatory notes in the afterword, that certainly won't hurt. Not so much to cover your rear, but for the inquisitive reader who'd like to know more (and the one that isn't interested can skip that).

One thing that could be confusing is if you had your characters, in a realistic setting, or even the narrator attribute those ideas to a fictional author instead of the real one. Make sure that any fictional attribution also looks fictional. But again, not to cover your rear, but to avoid misleading the reader about the facts.

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I see two aspects that you should in my opinion consider:

  1. If you acknowledge your sources, it is not plagiarism. In a fictional work (where you commonly don't have in-text citations) you can point these out in an acknowledgment section at the end of the book.

  2. There may be copyright issues if you do no more than rephrase the contents of another book. If, on the other hand, you create something original and new by, (as in a textbook) summarizing different theories or (in a play) having characters discuss those theories and acting according to the insights they have gained during that discussion, you should be fine.

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