Cussedness Corner

"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane

The Facts About Plagiarism

Mr. Nameless has provoked a new series of rants and I guess I’ll go one for a few days about it. When he accused me in several places on the internet, I must admit that I was irritated and angry because the accusations were baseless and just plain stupid. I seriously doubt that he even knows what the word means. He also, at the same time, accused Brian Keene of plagiarism. Both of which will be addressed here.

First, let’s look at some definitions

From Webster’s New World College Dictionary third edition
Plagiarism: 1) the act of plagiarizing; 2 an idea, plots, etc. that has been plagiarized

Plagiarize to take (ideas, writing, etcs) from (another) and pass them off as one’s own.

From Wikipedia:
“Plagiarism is the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work. Unlike cases of forgery, in which the authenticity of the writing, document, or some other kind of object, itself is in question, plagiarism is concerned with the issue of false attribution.”

My take on this.
The wiki article is long and involved, and mostly concerned with research and thesis work. Nonetheless, it can be applied to fiction in a limited fashion.

But at the bottom of this is the fact that in order for a work of fiction to be considered plagiarism, a writer must do several things: 1) they must have lifted entire passages from another person’s work; 2) they must have clearly stolen their characters, such as lifting them with little or no change from what the other wrote; 3) they must have taken their worldscape directly from another writer with little or no changes.

When I was young and just starting out as a writer, I was enamored of certain authors and imitated their style to some degree. One of the things I was guilty of was imitating the florid descriptions that Howard loved.. IMITATING. I never stole from him. I believed that I was good enough to describe my own world of Daverana as I perceived it. As noted in an earlier post there have been scores of imitators. Imitation is not plagiarism.

Except for the new Cullen Blackwood story “The Whorehouse Devil,” all of my sword and sorcery has been about Chimquar the Lionhawk.

One of the people who read that story labeled her a Xena clone (forgive me Macy), mostly because they somehow missed the top line where it said the story they read had been published in 1979 while Lucy Lawless was still in diapers.


People continue to imitate Howard, but using their own characters and descriptions. It has become a time honored tradition. The genre of Sword and Sorcery was invented — or at least popularized — by Howard. At the time that he was writing, many writers were also writing about brawny barbarians, but doing so with less panache than Howard. I’m a bit rusty there, but I’ll look around for my copy of Imaginary Worlds by Lin Carter and list some of them later.

So, in order to have plagiarized Howard, I would have to have written about a brawny barbarian named Conan and a world that was exactly like Hyboria. Or I would have had to lift his descriptions complete into my own work.

When I sold “Wolves of Nakesht” to Amazons! edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, she said she loved it, but that the prose got a bit purple at times. I immediately overreacted and lunged into a style of writing that was closer to that of Mickey Spillane. When I started writing fiction again after 15 years in journalism, I had to re-learn how to describe things fully. I still catch myself doing a Mickey Spillane on my descriptions and so I do multiple drafts to get past it.

You can’t copyright an idea or concept.

When a fiction author re-uses an older idea, he updates it and reinterprets it, thus making it his own. Frequently authors will see an idea that they think they can do better and they borrow it and re-interpret it from their own perspective That is how we ended up with so many traditions and labels and genres.

For instance, talking animals is fairly common. Mercedes Lackey’s Companions share things in common with McCaffrey’s dragons, and the horse that Dilvish the Damned rode in those stories by Roger Zelazny; and even with Andre Norton’s Keplians, among a host of others.. Yet each of them is re-interpreted and made fresh by the newest writers in the genres.

And let us not forget Watership Down and Tailchaser’s Song and Piper at the Gates and Wind in the Willows.

This is not plagiarism.


Brian Keene is not the first person to write about the end of the world due to zombies or vampires or whatever the flavor of the moment is. The originality lies in the interpretation. Furthermore, Matheson’s antecedents show as well, because he merely took ideas that were already in circulation and carried them to the ultimate scientific extreme with I Am Legend.

Some of the earliest zombie stories were written by Hugh B. Cave. Yet his take on them was far different from the others.

None of that was plagiarism.


Mr. Nameless is not the first person to write about Africanized Killer Bees. There have been other stories about them.
Giant spiders have been a staple of fiction since the days of the pulps. If I were to extend Pacione’s definition of plagiarism to the way in which he is currently using the term, then we are forced to admit that he stole his spiders in “House of Spiders” from Tolkien. Shelob anyone?

I am not accusing him of plagiarism. What I am saying here is that he is accusing people of doing what he has done himself. None of which is plagiarism.

And that is the entire point of this post.
More tomorrow or maybe even later today.


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This entry was posted on February 28, 2007 by in Janrae Frank.

Janrae Frank

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