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Beyond Plagiarism: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? - Mo's Journal
August 10th, 2006
11:24 am

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Beyond Plagiarism: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
I’m following some of the meta about plagiarism and fanfic and it’s sparking some other ideas for me. I’d like to talk about inspiration rather than about plagiarism, about how ideas get originated by one person and spread throughout a fandom in an organic – and, to me, really delightful - way. But first I think I do have to say a little about plagiarism to get that part out of the way.

To me, the issue of what is plagiarism is pretty clear, even in fanfic. I feel like I know what is off limits in my view of fandom and I have good boundaries. Plagiarism is using someone else’s words and passing them off as one’s own.


Fanfic isn't plagiarism chez moi - we all acknowledge that the characters aren't ours and we don't try to pass anything off as original that isn't. If I use lines from the X-Men movie in my X-Men movieverse fanfic, I'm not plagiarizing.

In my fiction I have Scott say to Charles when Charles is dying, “I’ll take care of them for you,” for example. He says that in the movie when he thinks Charles is dying. It seems reasonable to me that Scott would say it again when Charles really is. I use a few other lines in that way, and I assume that people familiar with the movies will realize that I didn’t make those lines up any more than I made up Scott’s optic blasts. I'm taking canon and adding to it; that's what fanfic is about.

What about legality? Well we are definitely in a legal grey area. executrix gave a wonderful talk at Con.txt about fanfic and the law and what I took from it, mostly, is that there’s so little case law that not much is really clear from a legal POV. For the record, if anyone from Marvel or Fox asked me to take down my stories, I would and it wouldn't be necessary to threaten legal action. It would be enough that the creators of the source text said they didn't want us doing this. That they don't say that says, to me, that they are neutral or tacitly positive. I think we help them sell a lot more comics and movie tickets.

OTOH, if I were to take lines (or pages of text) from some other source (other than the canon I’m writing fanfic about) and use it in my fanfic as if I’d written it I would be plagiarizing. I wouldn't do that and I don't really like it when others do. I think I can honestly say that any line my characters speak that isn’t in the movie is one I made up or one I heard a real person saying and thought would fit. This is called either pillaging your friends’ lives for fiction or having an ear for dialogue – I prefer the latter.

I do think people can accidentally take lines from other sources just because they heard them, liked them, internalized them and forgot where they came from. OTOH, when it’s not a line here or a line there but wholesale copying of chunks of text from other sources, I don’t find it ethical. I wouldn't pillory someone who does that; I don't feel like it's a crime against humanity. I don't like it, though, and do think that kind of thing is ethically wrong, whether the person is taking text from a published work or television program or from another fanfic writer’s story. That's all very clear to me.

But a whole lot of what happens in fandom isn’t plagiarism of other sources but just inspiration from other sources. That’s what fanon is about – someone comes up with an idea and it catches on. Eventually you don’t necessarily know who originated it; it’s just kind of there in the ether. It’s also quite possible for two people to independently come up with the same idea about a character. As penknife points out, there are just so many possible variations, for example, of Erik and Charles Play Chess and Have Subtext-laden Conversation during the Game. So A might feel like B took her idea for that, but maybe they both just had similar ones.

Me, I’m not bothered about who takes my ideas. I love fanon and love to see how different people use a concept in different ways. I’m mostly flattered when I see something that I think I originated being used in other stories, and particularly when it becomes so widespread that I think people who never read my stories are using it. It makes me feel influential. I’m also just interested by the whole idea of inspiration and how little we know about it. I’ve sometimes realized long after I wrote a story where a particular idea originated. I’m sure I’m not the only author – fan or otherwise – that happens to.

In X-Men fandom, there are things I am quite sure I originated, things that I think I originated, things I know I got from others, and things I don’t know where they came from. Here are a few of each:

Things I Know I Originated That Have Spread:

- Cyclops having certain verbal peculiarities, in particular answering “Okay?” with “More than okay.” I looked through my first series when I decided to write more and looked for things that I’d had Scott say, in order to pick a few to be kind of catch phrases of his, in order to make his voice more distinct. Logan’s verbal patterns are really in evidence in the movie, but Scott speaks so little that he was kind of a tabula rasa. I came up with “More than okay” and made it a standard thing he says. It’s something I have him say often, and also a couple of times when another character says it, someone will comment that he must have been spending time with Scott. It became really common in X-Men movieverse, and I’m quite sure that at least some authors thought it came from the comics, not me.

- Cyclops having a history of teenage prostitution. I did look into this and I’m quite confident I was the first to write it, although Scott as a hustler in the pool sense (which I don’t write) was quite common in comicsverse well before the movie. It’s implicit but not stated in my first series, explicitly mentioned in my second (December 2000) and explored in detail later. There was a huge crop of Scott-as-teen-hustler stories starting in 2001, and I got a lot of letters from readers saying “So and So stole your idea.” I had a stock answer (“I don’t own teenage prostitution, nor would I want to”) and was not bothered by the fact of others using the idea, whether or not they got it from me. I did look back to see if I could find any before mine, and afaict there aren’t any. I don’t like what a lot of writers have done with this concept. I used it as a partial explanation for why he is so enamored of a conventional life – he has memories of fear and degradation from a time in his past when that’s all he could do to survive. My description of his time as a hustler is informed by the experiences of real life men who worked in sex trade as teenage throwaways. A lot of writers, by contrast, eroticize and (even worse, to my mind) romanticize a hustler period of his. But I don’t mind anyone using it, and if they did get the idea from me, great. As I said, t makes me feel influential.

- Logan having paralytic drugs but no anesthesia during the surgery when they put the adamantium in. An anesthesiologist friend of mine told me, a long time ago, about mistakes in anesthesia where a patient is paralyzed but not anesthetized and feels the pain of the surgery but can’t say anything. It was quite horrific to hear about and since it’s canon that Logan had horrific things done to him, I had the idea of them doing this to him on purpose. It’s also probably inspired by one of the nightmare scenes in the movie where you see him very still but with his eyes open and looking terrified. I could imagine him paralyzed but aware as I looked at that. I think others may have been inspired by that scene, by my fiction, or both, but I’ve seen it crop up a few times and I’m pretty sure mine was the first.
ETA thdancingferret told me in comments that this idea comes from the comics. Not only that, it comes from a comic book series I've read, remember quite vividly, and had nightmares for weeks when I first read it. It's the Weapon X series and it gave me lots of great ideas for torturing poor Logan. For those who've read my series Canadian Nights, Logan's nightmare about the wolves comes directly from that series of comic books. And so, apparently, does the idea of Logan having paralytic drugs without anesthesia, which I was sure came from hearing from my friend Dr. J.J. about doctors who have done that by accident. So this illustrates my point that we don't know where our ideas come from often!


Things I Think I Originated That Have Spread

- Logan having a “vanishingly short refractory period” and that being related to the healing factor. I’m not sure I’m the first on this one because I think it could have shown up in het comicverse fiction that I haven’t read, but I think I started the trend in slash and in movieverse.

- Scott having accidentally killed his father when he came into his powers. I think this one is probably mine because it’s not consistent with comicverse canon, so it would seem that it’s new with movieverse and new with me, but I’m not sure. Certainly the idea of mutants as dangerous, particularly when coming into their powers, is a basic one to the X-Men concept, so this is the kind of thing that I think could come up independently.

Things I Know I Got from Someone Else (not necessarily the originator of the idea)

- Scott as having been a Boy Scout. A lot of comicsverse writers refer to him as a “boy scout” in a figurative (and generally derisive) sense. I think it fits in with his character and I like to use it in part for that. I also really resent the homophobic nature of the BSA, so I gave him his first gay experience on a Boy Scout camping trip.

- Xavier having set up a charitable foundation and he and some of the X-Men being trustees of it. I first read this in a story by minisinoo. I don’t know if she originated it or if it’s canon or fanon, but I like it and have used it a lot.

Things I Know I Got From Somewhere Else But Don’t Know Where

- Scott having impaired vision, specifically being unable to see in color and having poor night vision. This is an idea that was kicking around fandom for a while, I think. I don’t know if it has a comics canon basis or not. I really like it, think it’s emblematic of a lot about his character, showing how his power is such an ambiguous gift. I feel like I just kind of picked it up from the ether, but there may be someone out there who invented it.

- Scott as assistant headmaster of Xavier’s Academy. It makes sense since he’s Charles’s second-in-command as Field Leader that he’d have a similar role at the school. It kind of emphasizes the parallelism between the X-Men and the school. I like it; I think I picked it up somewhere but I have no idea where.

- Telephonic telepathy – my telepathic characters can read minds over long distances provided they establish a vocal link first, through talking on the phone. Otherwise they have short ranges where telepathy works. I think I got this from a comic book but I’m not sure.


I’d love to hear from anyone who reads this:

- What concepts do you think you’ve originated in fanfic?
- Which ones do you know where you got them from?
- Which just kind of is out there – not in canon but in so much fanfic that no one knows where it started?

Oh, I will get back to Gay Parenting 101. I’ve got one more legal post to do, and then one on choosing a school supportive of gay families.

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:chimosa
Date:August 10th, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
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I got a lot of letters from readers saying “So and So stole your idea.” I had a stock answer (“I don’t own teenage prostitution, nor would I want to”)

LOL!!! I'm sorry, but that made me *crack* *up*.
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From:mofic
Date:August 10th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Don't be sorry. It was supposed to be funny, or at least tongue-in-cheek.
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From:chimosa
Date:August 10th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
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*Grin* I figured.

And I'm going to admit that whenever you post meta that references your stories, you make me want to go back and reread them all. Now I've got a need to read Scott saying "More than okay" and there goes my day. *shakes fist* damn you.
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From:executrix
Date:August 10th, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC)
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About the con_txt presentation: thank you!

There's something about fans that just makes RentBoy fics resonate (and there aren't a lot of legitimate employment options for kids who don't have various forms of social support and documentation), so I'd call teenage prostitute fics in any fandom a question of "scene a faire" (obligatory scene). That is, plagiarism allegations are not sustained where both the allegedly infringed and the allegedly infringing work draw on a common body of work.

And a lot of things that are charged as plagiarism are really more a question of genre--I mean, in a RomCom, whether it's mixed doubles or two guys or two women there's probably going to be a lot of snarking. And I'm afraid that a lot of the characters in slashfics learned how to have sex from reading other slashfics, so they tend to do the same damn thing.

lunabee34 has an animated icon that snowgrouse made based on my description of Blakes7 as an "interplanetary dick-measuring contest."
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From:mofic
Date:August 10th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC)
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That is, plagiarism allegations are not sustained where both the allegedly infringed and the allegedly infringing work draw on a common body of work.

I hope you don't think I was alleging plagiarism in saying I was the first to use the Scott-as-teen-prostitute idea! I was as clear as I could be in saying that I am not doing so and don't think being inspired by an idea from someone else's fic is plagiarism. Hmm, guess I wasn't as clear as I thought - I'll have to look to revising. I'm also not suggesting that all who used it got their inspiration from me, just that it's likely that some did, given the large number of such fics shortly after I wrote mine.

I don't know what RomCom means and I'm afraid I don't understand the Blakes7 thing, either.

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From:executrix
Date:August 10th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
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I think I was the one who was unclear--I mean that in a scene a faire situation, Writer A and Writer B both draw on a broader body of work, rather than Writer B taking something from Writer A.

RomCom = Romantic Comedy.

I haven't been very influential on Blakes7 but at least I came up with a byword that made it to an icon that was then used (with permission!) by a B7 newbie.
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From:hitchhiker
Date:August 10th, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)
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fascinating - i love tracing and watching the birth and dissemination of ideas. would love to read more posts on the topic, if you're so minded.
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From:mofic
Date:August 10th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC)
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Glad you found it interesting; I live to serve. I hope others will be inspired to write similar posts about their own sources for ideas and where the ideas traveled to.
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From:thdancingferret
Date:August 10th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
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Logan having paralytic drugs but no anesthesia during the surgery when they put the adamantium in.

This is actually canon, from the miniseries run of Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith. In a particular panel where they're operating on Logan, one of the doctors makes a comment about giving him more sedation when he groans and Dr. Cornelius essentially clarifies that Logan isn't anesthetized at all, simply paralyzed, since he needs him aware for the tests to run properly. Extraordinarily horrific but extremely useful insight into the genesis of Logan.
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From:mofic
Date:August 10th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
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And I actually read that series - it's where I got some great ideas for Logan's nightmares. But I attributed the paralysis-but-no-anesthesia thing to what my anesthesiologist friend said, having forgotten it was in the comic. Thanks! I'll edit to add.
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From:talktooloose
Date:August 11th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC)
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There's a Ultimate-verse fic where Bobby and Logan go camping and Bobby tells Logan he dreamed that he was awake during the operations. Logan, cursing, confirms this and Bobby breaks into tears. It's a weird fic, but a good one.
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From:mofic
Date:August 11th, 2006 01:58 am (UTC)
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That sounds interesting. Who wrote it?

I just rec'ed you to someone looking for Bobby/John fic, btw.
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From:thdancingferret
Date:August 11th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
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That series is one of my absolute favourites. Not only do I love how Barry Windsor-Smith drew Logan, but the story... Good God, I have never read a comic before or since that gave me such chills and effected me so strongly. Just utterly brilliant in a truly tragic way. And I've always wondered if, because of his regenerative capabilities, Logan actually felt pain more acutely than other people, albeit for a much shorter period of time. If that's the case, it makes the thought of what happened with Weapon X all the more horrifying.
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From:mofic
Date:August 11th, 2006 01:58 am (UTC)
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I look forward to it!
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From:lilacsigil
Date:August 11th, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
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Scott's vision I've seen written both ways - in one version it's impaired by the power itself or by the glasses, in the other (I think Min writes this) his night vision and ability to see movement, if not detail, is extremely good. Personally, I see him with severely restricted peripheral vision as a result of the glasses/visor, but not severely affected otherwise.

I use the same idea of telephonic telepathy, though I call it linking - if a telepath is talking to someone on the phone, they can use telepathy on that person, regardless of usual distance limitations, as a pathway is already there for the telepathy to access. I wonder where that came from? It might be comics, as I read an awful lot of them, but I have no idea which.

The "vanishingly short refractory period" has been around, if not so elegantly phrased, for a while, I think, for healing factor characters and Quicksilver! There's a lot of het PWP that takes advantage of it, but you're right, I haven't seen it so much in slash.
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From:mofic
Date:August 11th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
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Scott's vision I've seen written both ways - in one version it's impaired by the power itself or by the glasses, in the other (I think Min writes this) his night vision and ability to see movement, if not detail, is extremely good. Personally, I see him with severely restricted peripheral vision as a result of the glasses/visor, but not severely affected otherwise.

I think you can go lots of ways with the whole vision thing. The impaired vision just touches me more, I think. He wishes he could see normally, but it's a hell of an improvement over being blind.

About the telephonic telepathy, I do think it was from a comic. I have an impression of Scott lying in a bed in a hotel, calling Jean and then hanging up and talking through telepathy. I can see it in my mind's eye, but damned if I know what comic.

Someone (and now I can't remember who, dammit) cracked me up by suggesting that Quicksilver and Northstar should have premature ejaculation problems - yk 'cause they're so fast. Certainly short refractory period makes for better sex...
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:August 11th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)
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Then, of course, there's always Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" -- http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html -- from 1971, which is the seminal discussion of superhero sex.

So to speak.
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From:mofic
Date:August 14th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)
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Recently I saw that a well-known author has started annotating her stories to account for references to extremely well-known works of literature -- we're talking Shakespeare and Chaucer. I've noticed that you do this too. And it irritates the heck out of me that a fan author should be driven to this thanks to the CCs of this world.

Well, I don't know about the well-known author, but I don't do it because of CC. I'd never heard of CC when I started doing it. I do it because I like to, and I put it at the end of the series as an additional file so it's clear it's optional. I don't expect that everyone will recognize all the quotes, although I think most well-read readers will recognize many of them. I've had a number of readers write to me about the poems and so forth and say that they read them because of my lit. guides.
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From:mofic
Date:August 14th, 2006 01:00 pm (UTC)
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A couple more thoughts about your comment:

Now if I were writing an HP story and had Harry and Ron exchanging these lines: "Don't shoot, it's me" "Prove it" "You're a d***" "Okay," well, attribution is required. There is no reason why HP fans should recognize X1 as the source of this banter.

I totally agree. And I'd also argue that it's not appropriate banter to put into a couple of HP characters' mouths. That's what seemed so weird to me about the whole CC thing. Who are these readers who think that putting lines from TV shows into HP fanfic made for clever and witty fanfic? I'd think it would be a jarring thing that would throw someone out of the storie with its OOCness.

I tried to read the Draco Trilogy and without even knowing anything about the sources I found it pretty much unreadable because it didn't sound at all like the world of HP. I couldn't understand why it would be popular, at least with people who consider themselves HP fans. The characters were so OOC and there was no feeling of being immersed in this wizarding world that's like ours but different, with the differences being the source for a lot of humor. I felt like one-liners were substituted for the more organic humor of JKR's stories. I wondered if the person writing it hadn't read the books but only seen the movies. I like the movies quite a bit and, given the medium's limitations, I think they do a good job of adapting the books. But a lot of the humor in the books is lost in the movies because the parallelism just can't be expressed as well or as cleverly, I think.

That CC is so popular a writer in HP fandom goes a long way towards explaining why I just can't seem to find HP stories I want to read. I mean, part of the problem is that there are so many and it's just hard to sift through and find the ones you want. But I really want fanfic that makes me feel like I'm in the world JKR created, and I haven't found any. I'm sure there are some out there but I don't know where to look. Do you know of any?

The other thing I want to say is about quotes. I think often people just quote something irl and assume the listener knows what it's a quote from (as in your examples in your comment) and it's more natural to just have it happen. OTOH, my Scott is an English teacher and probably has more quotes to hand than most. He can recite a lot of poetry, knows big chunks of Shakespeare plays, etc. So, although often the quotes are just given, sometimes people ask him what they're from, and I think that's what happens irl as well.
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From:mofic
Date:August 15th, 2006 12:57 pm (UTC)
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She takes all this mystical hocus pocus stuff and gives it the matter-of-fact treatment, which makes it very funny to me.

Yes, I think that very matter-of-factness is the source of a lot of the humor. It's also the source of a lot of the sense of the wizarding world as real. People have very everyday concerns and they don't see their lives as outlandish. Harry - having known nothing about the wizarding world until he gets admitted to Hogwarts - represents the reader in the first book, at least, since it all seems weird and wonderful to him. He's the outsider looking in and helps draw us into the world as well.

I think Logan fulfills that function in X1, although he does it with disdain rather than wonder. When he hears the X-Men's codenames and says "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!" he draws in the X-Men novice, to whom the world of the X-Men is weird and outlandish. So, when he seems to accept them, we do as well. Hey, this should probably be an entry of its own on The Role of the Outsider in Fantasy.

If anyone asks me where I got "these are the times that try men's souls," etc., I shall just whack him or her over the head with a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

Now, now. Violence never solves anything :-). Seriously, that's the difference between us. I love it when people get introduced to a work from my stories. I treasure the letters that tell me that the reader read Huck Finn because of Scott teaching it, or got into Sandburg from reading a quote in my stories.
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