The same week I read about a German author who is defending her plagiarism, J.K. Rowling is being mentioned in another case of an author who believes Rowling heavily borrowed from his books.
In the instance of the first case of plagiarism, the author Helene Hegemann believes that her use of another's author's work is an art form. According to the Salon article I read, Hegemann reportedly told a German newspaper: "I myself don't feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me." However, as Laura Miller points out on Salon, Hegemann did not give the author of credit for the passages taken from "Strobo."
Please note that I have no first-hand knowledge of either case of alleged plagiarism, but I am interested in how reading someone else's work can or might influence my own work--maybe even creeping into my writing?
Many writers state that by reading the masters, they improved their own writing. When studying the greats, often a professor will suggest copying the words of the master to learn the cadences, word choices, and rhythms. I'm sure my novel writing career would do much better if I were to borrow heavily from the greats. I also understood that as civilization has moved along, we build on the shoulders of those who came before us. Some even argue that there are no original stories, just a re-hash of stories that have come before.
But sometimes, that line blurs. I have taught college students whose academic careers could be destroyed due to one instance of plagiarism and yet the students seem unsure what constitutes plagiarism--and why it would be such a big deal.
I think that as an exercise and to understand the world it is vitally important to be aware of the work of those who have come before. From the standpoint of creativity and our own interaction with creativity, I'm not sure that plagiarism is the best method of rising to the occasion and meeting our muse. Or is it?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. Besides contributing to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.