General Writing

Stages of Writing a Book: Post #2 (Research)

In this video, Janet Syas Nitsick and I discuss research when you’re writing your book.  Some people like to  research before they start writing their book, and others like to start the book and research as they go along.  You need to do the best method that works for you.

Possible avenues of research is looking things up on the Internet, going to the library, reading books, going in person to a place, and talking to someone who knows the topic well.  Sometimes if you visit a place, you can take pictures or take a tour.

One thing to watch is how much research you’re doing.  You want to do some, of course, but you don’t want to do so much of it that you forget to write the book. :)

Categories: General Writing | Tags: | 3 Comments

Stages of Writing a Book: Post #1 (Coming Up With Ideas)

(This series of posts turned out to be longer than five videos.  It turned into seven.)

In this video, Janet Syas Nitsick and I discuss coming up with ideas for writing your next book.  Janet shares a couple of real life events that have inspired some things in her stories, such as a man dressing up as Santa Claus and getting stuck in the chimney or a man’s devotion to his wife. Sometimes something someone says or does can lead to something you can use in your book.  But what you do is make your own spin (or twist) off of it, so then it becomes your own idea in your story.  Make it fresh and unique. Other sources of ideas can be movies and other books.  Think of how things could have gone differently.  How would things have played out if the hero/heroine had made a different decision at some point?  Would the outcome have been different?   Usually, it would have.  The fun part is deciding how, and this could launch you into a fresh new idea for a book. Sources of information can come from many things.  You can even take people you know in real life and embellish them/change them so that they become unique characters.  Maybe you take a certain physical trait they have (such as hair color) or maybe you pick out a personality trait (such as their enthusiasm for life) and make that the launching pad for the character.  Often you will start out with a character patterned off someone you know, but then as the story progresses, the character will take on a life of their own and become different. The key to getting ideas is to watch people, listen to what is going on around you, ask a lot of “what if” questions, and be open to exploring new possibilities.

Categories: General Writing, storytelling | Tags: , | 2 Comments

“Hey, That’s My Idea!”: When Works of Fiction are so Similar You Want to Sue

This morning an interesting story showed up on my Facebook feed: Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, was hit by a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement. In the lawsuit, an author by the name of Peter Gallagher (not the actor) alleges that Joss Whedon and the film company Lionsgate, among others, stole the idea for the 2012 movie Cabin in the Woods from his own self-published novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines, which he first put out in 2006. Apparently both the book and the movie have similar premises (spoiler alert!): a bunch of teens go hang out for the weekend in an old cabin, they’re attacked by monsters, and they find out they’re subjects in a horror-film scenario run by a strange organization or group. Gallagher also says that several of the characters in both works have similar names and personalities. No word yet on what the defendants in the case say or whether the lawsuit will actually go through or be thrown out of court (for the full story, click here).

Strangely enough, something similar happened to me last year. I was on Facebook and I saw on my news feed that a movie company that produces really interesting horror movies was getting ready to release a new film and had just uploaded its first trailer online. When I read the synopsis of the movie and saw the trailer, I was instantly reminded of a short story I wrote back in June 2013, one with an eerily similar premise and which I plan to expand into a novel when I get a chance. I will admit, the thought to sue did cross my mind.

But I didn’t. This was partly because I’d never published the short story. I’d sent it to a friend who recommended I expand it and I did speak of it one or two times on my blog, but beyond that it’s been languishing on the shelf until I feel it’s time to start expanding it. It’s a little too much to suppose that they somehow found a single post on my blog back in 2013 or maybe even hacked my flash drive and used that material to create their movie. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory or something.

Not only that, but I felt that what I was going for with my story set it apart enough from the movie in question that I didn’t need a lawsuit. And finally, I’m just finishing up my undergraduate degree. I have no time and none of the expenses for such a lawsuit, even if I was inclined for one.

But just because I didn’t feel that copyright infringement had happened here doesn’t mean it never happens. There are quite a few cases where judges have found that movie producers or book writers or TV showrunners have owed someone money over a possible infringement. Some ways to prevent yourself from being caught in either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side include, of course, to seek out every copyright protection you can get. For example, with every book I publish I make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office first. I know, technically publication or sending it to myself in the mail is considered copyright enough, but it helps to have federal protection.

Another thing to do is, if you suspect that someone’s infringed on your copyright, that you do as much research as possible. See if you actually have something to worry about. Also remember that there are plenty of stories that have similarities (like Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down have similarities, for example), so keep that in mind while you research. It could turn out your work and the work you’re researching only has a few similarities, and the ones there are just the kind anyone could come up with.

But if there’s enough resemblance that you can’t pass it off as just a few coincidences, then perhaps you might want to see if a few more people see the resemblances. If they see them too, then maybe you should consider consulting a lawyer.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I’ve never had to worry about this. If anyone has experience with this subject, please let us know your story and tell us what happened. We’d love your feedback.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on this Whedon-Gallagher story and see how it turns out. Because this could be our story. Anyone of us could go through this, as any one of us could have a copyright infringement lodged against our own properties simply to con us or someone could steal our works and sell them for their own profit. And we need to watch so we know how to fight it and keep it from happening to us.

Categories: Copyright, General Writing, Publishing Basics, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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