Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Tuesday afternoon at the Question Emporium
After attending a conference, I made some great connections with aspiring authors. We created a critique group and it just happened that my manuscript was the first to be disseminated. A couple of the other authors in our critique group decided to do complete rewrites of their manuscripts while reading my final draft. Three weeks later, I received one person's newest draft. Much to my surprise, fifty pages into the manuscript, I discovered three of my most carefully crafted metaphors (and I'm not talking about some cliche like "the place was crawling with cops") in her book. I noted it in the margin of her document, but I really feel that more should be said. I feel violated as an author and a person.
My manuscript has been requested by several literary agents and so it does stand a chance to be published. I worry about someone else querying a novel in the same genre with my words and ideas written as her own.
How should I deal with this situation? I have no problem confronting the writer, but I would like to do so in a professional manner.
So, now I have to actually write all my own metaphors? I steal from people all the time. You think I made up "slithery Barbara Poelle" and "posse of Fabulosity?" Hell no. I stole them from Twitter and use them without shame. The first use of "Herpet-American assistant" for my stuffed 14-foot boa was by Abby Zidle. You'll notice you never see her name mentioned again when I use it.
A carefully crafted metaphor is what: five words? Six? No matter how you slice and dice it** that's fair use.
And let's stand at the other side of this and remember that if she read it in your manuscript first, it was a metaphor that felt so true and so real that it sank into her mind and became exactly how something is described. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery** and all that.
I recognize plagiarism is a very VERY serious problem, but this is hitting an ant with an anvil.** Just note in the margins something breezy like "I'm so glad you liked my metaphor!" No need to call the police quite yet.
I assure you that there isn't going to be a problem with an agent reading your work or hers and wondering who came up with the metaphor first.
And you can't protect ideas. Don't even think about worrying about that. Even if every writer in your group started with your EXACT idea, the execution would be totally different. Don't believe me? Look at any of the writing contests on this blog and others. Everyone starts with the same word prompts or hints and no one comes close to writing the same story as anyone else.
You need to get used to the idea that people will use your words either intentionally or un. What are you going to do when you're published? Pursue everyone who uses your phrase on their blog?
Simmer down. Write. Quit obsessing. If you feel the need to obsess about things, the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is still up for debate.**
You're at the top of a slippery slope** that leads to people sending me password protected manuscripts; asking about how we watermark manuscripts; or being unwilling to even query me until I've answered 15 questions verifying I won't steal their work. This is not the slope you want to sled down.