Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Prodigy plagiarist Jonah Lehrer is in the news again for publishing yet another book that seems to be lifted from the propo
sal of another’s work. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was lured into purchasing his book ‘Imagine’. I really enjoyed it. That enjoyment made the betrayal even deeper when it was discovered he had used undocumented research and stitched together a string of documented events with fictional stories carefully tailored to get his point across. Amazon refunded my purchase.
I’m all for research. I love to research ideas so I can build a better story. But I will document all my sources if I quote directly from or reference someone else’s work. To do otherwise is theft.
The best-selling and RITA award winning author Cassie Edwards was cited by the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog, in 2008, for having used passages from 14 outsides sources. She never documented the original source material. All she had to do was reference the source and author, whether it was in copyright or not. Prior to his death in 2002, the historian Stephen E. Ambrose‘s career was shattered by allegations of plagiarism.
Due to personal experience, Nora Roberts has taken a very public and adamant stand about plagiarism:
Being plagiarized is a violation, and it hits you on every possible level. Professional, personal, emotional. And this idiotic trend to feel sorry for and excuse the offender–gee, she was having such a rough time, golly, she’s really a nice person, piles the stress and misery onto the victim-especially when this sort of comment comes from an associate.
It takes guts and time and money to pursue a case against your violator. And the emotional weight is enormous. It was the worst two years of my life, and it’s never really over. I know exactly what Gina’s [Wilkins] going through now, and hate to think of it. In my case it was horribly public–due to Janet’s (Dailey) decision to send out a press release the day before RWA in Orlando. And not once during this nightmare did any writer’s organization issue a statement decrying plagiarism. Libby [Hall] and others at RWA were incredibly supportive of me on a personal level, and I honestly don’t think I’d have gotten through the week intact without them. But there’s such a baffling hesitation to take a stand, a public one. – excerpt from Nora Roberts comments published Novelists Inc. (bolded parens added by me)
Tons of how-to books exist and the primary step they state is to read a best seller and use that plot. Plots are the events that make up a story, copying the sequence of event types isn’t the problem. A writer’s interpretation of what happens during a series of events will always be different. People take it a step to far by not only copying the events, but the setting, the characters, and the details. If you need help with plotting, get ‘20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them‘ by Ronald B. Tobias. It’s a classic for a reason.
Nora Robert’s closing remarks in her post on Novelist Inc sums up my feelings on plagiarism:
It’s long past time to let those who would copy another’s work and call it their own know that they won’t get away with it. That as writers we condemn this practice. It’s time to let the publishers know that if they continue to publish a plagiarist, we won’t be buying the book, and will do what we can to inform booksellers and readers of our stand. It’s time for solidarity. [And] if after all this I don’t speak out, who will?