Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Creative Process: "Borrowing"

There was a review of The King’s Own where the reviewer claimed that I’d “borrowed” the name Chadde (the Keeper of the King’s Peace) and Laurel’s vile tea from another author’s book. However, the problem with his claim was that I’ve never read any of this author’s works, let alone that particular book. Chadde was just a name I came up with (coincidences do happen) and the vile tea was first used in Covenants—and that came from my father’s stories of growing up during the time when cod liver oil was considered good for what ailed you. Apparently it is so nasty that whenever he became sick, he would hide it as long as possible to avoid getting a dose. Nothing like the bubblegum, cherry, and grape flavored stuff they gave us when I was a kid. Then, I did get penicillin shots (there were times when my backside felt like a pin cushion), so I guess it all evened out in the (hah!) end.


So Rabbit’s torment by tea is all my doing. Not that I don’t borrow from other authors. Or, maybe a better word for it is study. When I read, I’m following the storyline, sure. But I’m also looking to see what works and what doesn’t (and why), and what’s particularly effective. Not just plot line and character development, but also structure: Does the scene flow? How much backstory does the author provide? Is it enough? Is it too much? Is it in the right place or does it impede the current story? (A big concern in a series.)  And there are the plot devices—techniques used to advance the story. Again, do they work? Or are they clumsy? Or, worse, clichéd? A posse heading bank robbers off at the pass would be a hard sell to any reader. Unless it’s a spoof, and even then it’s been done so many times that the writer would have to be careful.

This is why writers should always read books similar to what they’re writing—fiction and non-fiction: biographies/memoirs, textbooks, cookbooks, self-help, what-have-you. Through them, we get a broad range of solutions to whatever creative issues we might have, and learn what to embrace and what to avoid like a dose of cod liver oil.  Or Laurel's vile tea.

So, no, I don’t lift names and ways to torment right out of other books. But I just might boost that transition sentence.


  1. I think, you shouln't worry about such reviews. In the end, there will allways be similarities between storys, books.. right in fantasy, where everything gets compared to lord of the rings (or, in german fantasy, to hohlbein).

    And, by the way, for me, it doesn't matter, if a name is similar to a name of an other book - or not.


  2. Thank you for your encouragement, Tanine.

    I wasn't worried so much as annoyed, first at being accused of doing something I hadn't done, and second, of being thought so lacking in creativity as to plop down wholesale into my book chunks of other authors' works, without any effort to at least run it through the filter of my own imagination.

    Heh. Guess my ego's still a little raw.

    Anyway, Hohlbein? Is there a English translation?

  3. I agree with Tanine, though I will point out that especially in today's society it is almost impossible for infulences of 'the world' to not creep up in what you're writing. Coincidences are going to occur, and someone will always find something in your writing that is similar to someone elses. There is just too much stuff out there right now, and though you may not have read it someone, somewhere has and will place blame. Names are especially hard, because you may think it is original but you find out later that somewhere someone has used it *sighs* I ran into that with one of my characters in a Fanfic that I wrote. You don't even want to know the flack I caught for that.

  4. Ouch, Moofie. Hopefully that didn't stop you from continuing to write. Criticism is necessary and good, but sometimes it's like having a brick wall thrown up in your face, stopping the creative process cold.

  5. Oh that Fanfic bit the dust. A friend of mine got really upset that I stopped writing it, but I couldn't stop second guessing myself over it. I started another one a little while later, and haven't stopped writing in general. I think I still have that one floating around somewhere on a floppy, unfinished but just waiting for me to get back to it.

  6. Sometimes I run across names and such that I think are so awesome that I'd really *like* to use them in my own work, but then I don't, because people will recognise it from the source, and everything else aside that just reminds me a bit too much of the 1001 variations on 'Arwen' and 'Legolas' that you're bound to encounter in fantasy MMOs. (Of course there are names or variations of names common enough that they will just pop up in various places, which is fine. They don't have to be dead common either for that to happen).

  7. I know what you mean, Norah. I finally ended up buying a baby name book and that has helped a lot with naming my characters.

  8. Wolfgang Hohlbein is a famous german writer. You could say, *the* german writer of the present.

    He is known for his often same storylines.
    Boy/Girl, something awful happened to the parents/family, has to save the world. He/She learns magic/fighting and in the end kills/defeats the enemy (mostly single bad person).

    Writers just need to have little similarities to this storyline and it is said, they copied from Hohlbein.