How alike can a story be before it's 'copying'? | Discussion Post | Lunch-Time Librarian

How alike can a story be before it’s ‘copying’? – Discussion Post

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*I don’t normally spell ’cause’ with a ‘z’, it was a typo

I had a rather adult (read: not at all adult) conversation with my beta reader/real life friend about my novel. I’m kind of a huge nerd. And I’m not saying that to be cutesy. I spent most of my tween and teenage years watching anime, I went to conventions and did dress up in costume (twice), and I know more Japanese than French. And if you’re Canadian you know that’s a big deal because the educational system has been trying to push French down my throat for years. ANYHOW, when writing my novel as a little ‘wut wut’ to my nerd side I used a well (like a water well) as the portal between worlds because Inuyasha was the first anime I ever watched in its native language.

So this conversation got me to thinking, how alike can one story be to another before you start to feel like an author maybe was a little ‘too’ inspired by another?

Most recently, there was some controversy over the similarities between Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. I have not read Red Rising, but according to GoodReads commenters the similarities were:

  • Both have a faction of society referred to as Reds
  • The other faction in Red Rising are called Golds, eerily similar in metallic qualities to Red Queen’s Silvers
  • The Reds are oppressed and the Golds/Silvers are high class and privileged
  • Darrow, the MC of Red Rising, pretends to be a Gold, not unlike how Mare, the MC of Red Queen, pretends to be a Silver

Obviously, the feeling of some that Red Queen is too similar hasn’t affected its sales or popularity. But now there’s a chunk of people who feel that this author may have done a bit of copying in terms of concept at least.

When you pitch a book you want to say that it’s The Hunger Games meets Bridget Jones’s diary, or Go Ask Alice meets 1984 because that’s how you get the audience from those books to go and read your book. But if your heroine by the luck of the draw takes her sister’s place at her new internship (where interns fight to the death to get full time employment) is that too similar? Or is it only copying if the herione’s name is Kate and the love interest is Peter? Or can no one ever write a battle royale type novel without being accused of copying Suzanne Colins? After all, even she got accused of ripping of Battle Royale, and the literal only similarity was that there was a fight to the death between multiple peeople. Oh, and there were teenagers. I stand corrected, two similarities.

So how alike can one story be to another before they’re copying or ripping off their predecessor? Or is it like YA cliches, it doesn’t matter how many they use as long as the story around it is unique and good? Or is there something inherently icky in seeing a book gain success when it’s clearly borrowed heavily from someone else’s idea?

A good book is a good book, period. But I lose my head when a book I loved does alright, and then another book comes along—with the exact same premise—and blows the market out of the water. But if they borrowed someone’s concept and made it better, on top of adding their own ideas, is that alright? Did they still rip it off? OR and this is a radical idea, are you of the general feelings that more often than not it’s just a case of two people coming up with the same concept purely by chance?

What’s your stance? How similar can do books be before you feel like one is copying the other?

Does it bother you? Or do you think that whoever had the best presentation is important, regardless of who had the idea ‘first’?

Let’s discuss! I would love to hear from you!

8 Comments

  • Cait @ Paper Fury

    April 7, 2016 at 5:13 am

    Honestly this is a HUGE deal for me because I haaaate books that rip-off others. But then…sometimes it depends on which I read first?!? And how I interpret it?!? Like people claim The Mortal Instruments majorly rips off Harry Potter BUT I DO NOT SEE IT. I did read TMI first, but still. I can’t see the similarities at. all. Eh.
    But omg Red Queen majorly rips off a LOT of books. Not just Red Rising. 🙁 That’s a big reason I am very opposed to it actually? Although it’s very popular so I must be a minority! But it also takes a ton of things out of The Selection, The Hunger Games and Xmen. XD I almost felt it just lined up a whole of “famous” and popular franchises and just combined them.
    But that all saying: nothing is wholly original. Nothing is new. Things are ALWAYS going to have similarities. I read two separate books this year with characters named Vivian and the characters were 100% the same. But the book came out at the same time. Copying? Nope. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. XD So it’s a very hard and fine line to find?
    I think if people too instantly think of another thing in relation to reading our work then we probably need to worry?
    (Omg my comment is so long, SORRY. XD)
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    • ltlibrarian

      April 7, 2016 at 7:46 am

      WHAAATT? What is the same between TMI and Harry Potter?? I read HP first and I still don’t even get it. I mean they aren’t even quite in the same genre because you can’t really call HP an urban fantasy cause they barely ever go into the muggle world. Now I’m trying to compare Magnus Bane to Dumbledore and my brain is like ‘this isn’t working’.

      I heard about The Selection comparison! Though it only ended up being a tiny bit of the book so I didn’t bother. I suppose this would be a case of too much ‘borrowing’. Like similarity to one book is alright, but when it’s like 5 other books it’s too much.

      Agreed! There’s not going to be any books that come out that aren’t like any other books out there. That’s so crazy about the Vivian character though. But there’s just so many writers out there, and all of them read, so it makes sense that people won’t have wholly original books.

      Don’t apologize! I love long comments 🙂

      Reply
  • Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    April 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    I’ve heard of this with the Shadowhunter series as well (I forgot what series it was compared to) but I think it even went to court or something because of how similar the concepts were.

    It’s hard to really form an opinion because, as readers, we don’t really know if it was pure coincidence or the author took the inspiration a little too far. When I read More Happy Than Not and told my husband what it was about he responded with “So basically it ripped off Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” There are definitely similarities, basically the entire premise is the same with only one change. So really, did he rip it off or did he just so happen to have the same idea?

    I’m currently writing two books, one is inspired by The Young Elites the other is inspired by The 5th Wave. I’m not stealing any precise details, but they definitely played a role in my idea. So, how much of it will others consider as copied? Even though nothing is directly stolen from either book. I don’t know. You present a great question! I have so much more to add but now I’m just rambling lol
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    • ltlibrarian

      April 3, 2016 at 10:58 am

      I didn’t know that! I can’t even think of any books that similar to the shadowhunter concept.

      That is the tricky bit because what some people see as being inspiration others might see as copying. Even if a lot of the book is different, when key elements are the same I think that’s when people put up red flags. But you’re so right, as the reader you can’t really know. The only exception really is parody. Like Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On seems to be a sort of parody of Harry Potter.

      PS. Applauding you for writing two books at once!

      Reply
      • Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

        April 4, 2016 at 9:40 am

        I googled it – Clare supposedly took ideas from the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Here is an article about it : http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/sherrilyn-kenyon-sues-cassandra-clare-for-wilfully-copying-her-novels

        Also, exactly! Another one I can think of is The Chronicles of Shannara and The Lord of The Rings. There are A LOT of similarities. But I wouldn’t say it copied The Lord of The Rings. It just, clearly, took inspiration from it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If someone loves a piece of fiction, obviously that’s probably going to be type of book they write and they’ll pull ideas and concepts from it.

        Or, people just have the same ideas. I know for one of my novels I have my MC collecting ID’s from dead bodies (it would make sense if I explained the whole thing, but let’s just go with that) and 2 months later, I saw The Walking Dead having a character do the EXACT same thing for the EXACT same reason. Technically, in my head, I did it first because that episode wasn’t out yet. But, it just so happened that I had the same idea as the writer of that episode. It’s not copying. Just coincidence.
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        • ltlibrarian

          April 4, 2016 at 12:22 pm

          I have never heard of the Dark Hunter series, but I think that any book looks bad when you lay out similarities side by side. But like you said, when people are inspired by a certain book they tend to use some of the themes/ideas they saw. But I think that as long as they interpret them in a new way it’s fine.

          That’s so weird with the walking dead! But it’s true, it’s not completely far fetched that two people have the same idea. Especially in books where some things themes are more common. Like a hero going on an epic quest to find an object, and there’s a wizard, and an unlikely hero? They’re hundreds of books about that exact same thing.

          I think people just get made when little details get repeated. Like the silver and gold thing with Red Queen and Red Rising. Or two MCs that both have blonde hair with TMIs and Dark Hunter.

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          • Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

            April 5, 2016 at 8:23 am

            Yeah, people have to draw the line somewhere. A book may be your favorite book in the world, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t have similar ideas. Think of all the books out there. There is going to be at least one that is similar to the current book you’re reading. I don’t know, in my head that makes sense. I hate to say this because I’m a writer, but there is only so much originality. For the most part, every book is a blend of several books the author has already read. Isn’t there a quote that says something like that? Like “we write what we know” or something.
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            • ltlibrarian

              April 5, 2016 at 1:19 pm

              It’s so true though. With all the people and ideas and writers in the world, chances are there’s an idea that someone else has already put to paper. There’s probably a quite like that? I don’t know any haha

              I think that we’re in a time of having enough originality. A book just has to have 1 or 2 things that set it apart to be good. And the rest very likely will be, as you said, a blending of other books

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