Copy – wrong?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – anon

It is very easy to echo a favourite writer. Like picking up a strong accent, you may well do it in unconscious admiration. Does that make your work fake? A blend of your most-read authors would not be plagiarism as such – but would it still be your work ?

Since we are a result of our life experiences – and a book properly read and interacted with is an experience – I would say this is inevitable. We write who we are – and we imitate.

But I’d suggest taking it one stage further. Do it deliberately.

Take an aspect  – the structure of a thriller, the rhyme scheme of a poem, one choice character – and play with it. Analyse how they did it and apply your new knowledge. You might draft a thriller set in a completely different world, compose a poem on another topic or send that character on a new voyage.

It worked for Constable – an avid copyist:  Shakespeare – a great ‘borrower’ of stories and writers such as Jean Rhys in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ & Susan Hill in ‘Mrs de Winter’. There are many more examples – indeed for most of art history learning from the Masters (please forgive the sexist term) was de rigeur.

You may wish to acknowledge the original  – to make the source obvious. I did so in my poem ‘Meanwhile, Mr Ferlinghetti’ because it was a reply – but it is not compulsory.

There is plenty of controversy in this area – arguments over intellectual property are complex and often heartfelt. I would say that it’s not the idea that matters – it is the execution: something I have learned from Greg Mosse on the West Dean MA. If I put in the spadework and create something new – well, then it’s my work.

I would love to know other people’s views on this – is it always wrong to copy?

8 thoughts on “Copy – wrong?

  1. just copying is wrong IMO…. but taking influence or improving someone else’s work, as long as credit it given is OK

  2. We do a module entitled ‘Textual Intervention’ where the students take stories (gothic ones in the first semester and fairy tales in the second) and make them their own. It is a re-telling, re-interpretation.

  3. I think if you copy consciously and without cynicism, then it can be fine – your twist on the material will distance the two works enough to make something new. It’s when you copy something with no idea but imitation (or worse, imitation for money) that things go awry.

    • Thank you fro joining in, Nick – I agree it’s the new take on the previous material that makes the difference.

  4. I think the point Ness makes both here and on her own blog post is an excellent one – that through “copying” we can learn and grow. But as Nick says, when one does this it’s important to do so consciously and conscientiously, understanding what one is doing and why.

    • It’s good to read you here Nicky. Certainly, it’s the things you admire that you consciously adapt to inform your own work – and it’s only right to acknowledge that.

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