Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the blog on this lovely Wednesday. I can actually see blue sky from my window this morning, which already makes me feel overjoyed. Maybe the UK will have a summer afterall? *Knocks on wood*
Time for some questions submitted by readers!
First, an email from Borko, who comes from Bulgaria (oooh!) and says:
"I write a book (fiction) and the problem is that I can not describe unfamiliar things. For example, animal - I cannot say: It looks just like a dog, but is ten times greater and no tail because the action takes place on another planet, and it sounds silly."A very good question! This is a unique issue that challenges all writers of epic (that is, Other World) fantasy or science fiction at some point. When you move the action to an invented landscape you lose the baseline of 'normal', which allows readers to make assumptions about the world of the story without description. And you not only need to describe everything, from the colour of plants and sky and the smell of air, to the number of arms and legs a character has, but you often also have to develop a new vocabulary to describe everything, since your characters, as you point out, may never have seen a dog.
The thing you need to decide is this: are your characters as in the dark about the world of the readers, as the readers are about the world of the characters?
What that means, is that just because your readers come to the story blind, without any frame of reference for your imagined landscape, it doesn't mean the characters in the book have to. If they've arrived on Planet Smeerp from earth, they WILL know what a dog looks like, so why not use that as description? Or if they've never seen earth, haven't they been educated about it? Read books, seen videos? In a fantasy, if you have a creature that looks like a dog, sounds like a dog and fulfils the same function as a dog, just call the thing a dog! Making up fantasy names for familiar things is a waste of effort. Concentrate your imagination on describing the truly unfamiliar elements of your landscape, and don't make life unnecessarily tough for yourself.
On the other hand, if your characters really have never seen a dog, and if such a thing as a dog does not exist within their experience - why would you create a creature for them to encounter which is 'like a dog'? Especially 'like a dog, but ten times bigger, with no tail'? I mean - that's boring, Borko! If you're giving yourself completely free range to invent fantasy creatures which have no basis in reality at all - creatures which are like nothing any human has ever seen - then DO that. Go wild!
Describe the interesting things about your invented animals, not the familair ones. Give your alien beast shining scales the colour of flame, stunted vestigial wings, foot long teeth and frondy, waving antenna. Why limit yourself to descriptive terms which reduce the wonder of the new world and things your characters are seeing? Consign such pointless terms as 'like a dog' to the dustbin and have fun! Then the problem of describing imaginary creatures and worlds stops being a problem and becomes a pleasure instead.
Next, also via email, is a question from Delaney (hi, Delaney!):
"I'm a bit scared of plagiarizing someone accidentally. I can't go around and read every single book in the world and make sure mine doesn't copy one. I probably sound really weird and paranoid, but it has just been bothering me. Have you ever felt this way? If so, how did you move past it."Delaney, let me give you a piece of information which will hopefully make you feel much better:
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLAGIARISE ACCIDENTALLY.
Literally impossible. Plagiarism is a crime whereby one person deliberately takes the actual words another person has written and tries to pass them off as their own. If you were to take THIS sentence and post it into your blog, and say that you wrote it? That would be plagiarism. Plagiarism is just a fancy-pants word for stealing.
If, on the other hand, you decided to write a post on your blog tomorrow about plagiarism which made all the same points as I'm making here, but in your own words? That is NOT plagiarism.
I mean, it's kinda a skeezy thing to do. But it's not a crime.
And if you were not to read this post today, Delaney, but instead go off and do some research and write your own post about plagiarism based on that research, and post it tomorrow? Then you would have done nothing wrong, either morally or ethically. It would be nothing more than a coincidence, and would get no more reaction from me than a smile. Really.
The same thing applies to books. If you copy and paste a chapter someone else has written into your story and pretend you wrote it, you've committed a crime. If you take someone else's ideas and write them up in your own way, you're stunting your imagination and being rather unfair to the author - and other people will figure it out and laugh and point at you, and you're highly unlikely to get published - but technically there's no copyright on ideas and no crime has taken place.
If you happen to write a book on the same topic as another author? Or happen to create a character similar to other author's characters? Or use the same fairytale as your basis? It is NO BIG DEAL. It happens all the time. It's impossible to avoid doing it, to some extent. There are only a very limited number of stories, archetypal characters and plot twists in the world, and since humans have been creating stories since they first crawled out of the swamp and said 'Ugg', trying to create some wildly original idea that no one could ever have thought of before will just cause your eyes to bleed.
How do I know this? Well, let's take a look at one of the best known book series in recent memory: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. They are often called 'derivative' - which is to say that many other children's writers have used the same kind of ideas in different books before J.K.R did. When I initially read the first Harry Potter book, I remember saying 'Hey, this stuff is just like Diana Wynne Jones' books!' I was not the first person to say this, and I was not the last either. But no one's suggesting that J.K.R. actually stole or copied ideas. It's just that the ideas - wizard school, scarred hero, chosen one - were fairly common and unoriginal.
Did that stop anyone loving Harry Potter? No. Did it stop J.K. Rowling from selling enough books to build her own private island? No. Did it get J.K. Rowling in any kind of trouble? No! In fact, every time that someone has tried to say the writer copied from them, not only have their cases been thrown out of court, but the whole world has mocked and laughed at them for their attempts to cash in on Harry Potter's success.
Write the books you want to write. Tell the stories that you love and believe in. Create the worlds and characters that make your heart sing. If anyone ever accuses you of plagiarism you smile and shrug it off, because you know that a) they don't actually understand what the world means and b) it's not true anyway.
I hope this post was helpful for you! As always - if there are anymore questions, email me or leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. If you recently left a comment with a question and I *haven't* answered it, let me know, as there have been problems with Blogger swallowing comments lately and I may not have seen it.
Over and out!