Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

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Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Morningstar » 2010-11-21 01:35pm

Is it ok to steal any idea in fantasy?

The most obvious example is the constant use of LOTR's style elves and dwarves, without any change whatsoever. Tolkiens world is consistently plundered from, to such an extent it seems quite acceptable by now.

The most recent example I can think of is Christoper Paolini's "Eragon" which is a well known and controversial intellectual theft, from Tolkien and Lucas primarily. He just goes ahead and sticks the dwarves and elves in there again.

So accepting that Eragon is a particularly bad case, what makes it acceptable?

Wheel of Time Magic System:
It's so good it's hard to believe it won't be stolen. The whole concept of "weaves", the Dark One's taint on the male half of the One Power and every other part of it really enhance the entire series. But if it was in another book would that just be stealing?

Tolkiens races:
I know that Tolkien did not invent elves or dwarves but his version of them is commonly used. Wheres the line between stealing and the author making it his own?

Sorry if this rambles or doesn't make sense, just trying to get a sense of peoples opinions.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Eleas » 2010-11-21 01:51pm

Morningstar wrote:Is it ok to steal any idea in fantasy?

The most obvious example is the constant use of LOTR's style elves and dwarves, without any change whatsoever. Tolkiens world is consistently plundered from, to such an extent it seems quite acceptable by now.

The most recent example I can think of is Christoper Paolini's "Eragon" which is a well known and controversial intellectual theft, from Tolkien and Lucas primarily. He just goes ahead and sticks the dwarves and elves in there again.

So accepting that Eragon is a particularly bad case, what makes it acceptable?


The interjection of something original.


Wheel of Time Magic System:
It's so good it's hard to believe it won't be stolen. The whole concept of "weaves", the Dark One's taint on the male half of the One Power and every other part of it really enhance the entire series. But if it was in another book would that just be stealing?


As I'd be hard pressed to find a part of that system that wasn't itself stolen from better sources or just generally and utterly derivative, I'd say you can't really "steal" from WoT's magic system at all. Well, I would say that, except the sentiment applies to the series as a whole. One cannot steal what is already stolen. At best, one may take repossession of criminally misused concepts and hopefully rehabilitate them.


Tolkiens races:
I know that Tolkien did not invent elves or dwarves but his version of them is commonly used. Wheres the line between stealing and the author making it his own?


The interjection of something original.


Sorry if this rambles or doesn't make sense, just trying to get a sense of peoples opinions.


My opinion is that you can either go the path of Eddings, Jordan, Brooks et al, and absolutely refuse to break new ground. This will naturally lend itself to slavish copying and apathy in readers and writer alike. The opposite is to do something new, to play around with preconceptions, to chart new territory. But that requires talent, dedication and a desire to improve, which is not everyone's cup of tea, especially if the alternative brings more money to the table.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Marcus Aurelius » 2010-11-21 02:22pm

Eleas wrote:My opinion is that you can either go the path of Eddings, Jordan, Brooks et al, and absolutely refuse to break new ground. This will naturally lend itself to slavish copying and apathy in readers and writer alike. The opposite is to do something new, to play around with preconceptions, to chart new territory. But that requires talent, dedication and a desire to improve, which is not everyone's cup of tea, especially if the alternative brings more money to the table.

The problem with Tolkien is that people wanted more. He wrote just one children's fantasy book, one trilogy for somewhat more mature audience and bunch of stories with varying degree of completion, which were later published as the Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales etc. Although that seems like plenty at first, considering the richness of Tolkien's world it's really not that much, and people have the feeling that more should be done with that.

Enter the copycats. They take many elements from Tolkien, in some cases as many as they legally can, and incorporate them into their stories. It all seems nicely familiar for the fans of Tolkien, although later the Tolkienesque fantasy genre has gained a life of its own and there are actually people who have read Eddings or Jordan before Tolkien. Before Harry Potter Tolkienesque fantasy was commercially the most profitable fantasy genre by far. That is perhaps the best thing that has come out of Harry Potter; perhaps now the legacy of Tolkien can finally be left alone.

Let's just hope that we won't see a wave of HP imitation, but fortunately there is less danger of that, because the world of HP is not as rich, so there is less to copy from, and there is already quite a lot of HP in the seven novels Rowling wrote. She is also still young enough to have plenty of time to write more HP related stuff herself in the future, if the demand is high enough (and most writers do bow to popular demand eventually).

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Bakustra » 2010-11-21 02:54pm

I'd blame D&D, but that's not quite fair. After all, those hobbits and orcs were just sitting there. Criminal to leave them unused. :)

Anyways, what Eleas and Marcus have said is basically correct, but it's also worth noting that Tolkien's dwarves were themselves lifted wholesale from Norse and Teutonic myth, though he altered them to fit in his world. That is the critical line between thieving plagiarism and inspiration. The climate in fantasy is not merely a ripoff from Tolkien, though. It has fed on itself and become something of an ouroboros. Dwarves now speak in a vague Scots tone, universally, orcs have pigs' snouts and green skin, elves are blond and blue-eyed... these don't come from Tolkien, but from derivative works (or from the original myths) that have since fed back into the cycle that is fantasy.

It goes on to "urban" fantasy like Harry Potter (though Potter is somewhat less tainted by this) as well. Vampires are generally angsty Anne Rice-types. Werewolves used to change under the full moon, but now they can control the transformation and have gone from being savage monsters to noble beasts. There's more. I could rant for pages about this. Ultimately, what I do have to say is that it's de rigeur to not only steal ideas in fantasy, but to limit one's originality to the great snake with its tail in its mouth, twisted Mobius-like.
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I mean, how often am I to enter a game of riddles with the author, where they challenge me with some strange and confusing and distracting device, and I'm supposed to unravel it and go "I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE" and take great personal satisfaction and pride in our mutual cleverness?

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby General Zod » 2010-11-21 03:15pm

Marcus Aurelius wrote:
Eleas wrote:My opinion is that you can either go the path of Eddings, Jordan, Brooks et al, and absolutely refuse to break new ground. This will naturally lend itself to slavish copying and apathy in readers and writer alike. The opposite is to do something new, to play around with preconceptions, to chart new territory. But that requires talent, dedication and a desire to improve, which is not everyone's cup of tea, especially if the alternative brings more money to the table.

The problem with Tolkien is that people wanted more. He wrote just one children's fantasy book, one trilogy for somewhat more mature audience and bunch of stories with varying degree of completion, which were later published as the Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales etc. Although that seems like plenty at first, considering the richness of Tolkien's world it's really not that much, and people have the feeling that more should be done with that.

Enter the copycats. They take many elements from Tolkien, in some cases as many as they legally can, and incorporate them into their stories. It all seems nicely familiar for the fans of Tolkien, although later the Tolkienesque fantasy genre has gained a life of its own and there are actually people who have read Eddings or Jordan before Tolkien. Before Harry Potter Tolkienesque fantasy was commercially the most profitable fantasy genre by far. That is perhaps the best thing that has come out of Harry Potter; perhaps now the legacy of Tolkien can finally be left alone.

Let's just hope that we won't see a wave of HP imitation, but fortunately there is less danger of that, because the world of HP is not as rich, so there is less to copy from, and there is already quite a lot of HP in the seven novels Rowling wrote. She is also still young enough to have plenty of time to write more HP related stuff herself in the future, if the demand is high enough (and most writers do bow to popular demand eventually).


It's arguable that even Harry Potter isn't all that original.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Bakustra » 2010-11-21 03:22pm

General Zod wrote:It's arguable that even Harry Potter isn't all that original.


There's barely any overlap between Hunter and Potter besides their appearances. You are right, in a way, but not with the example you used.
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I mean, how often am I to enter a game of riddles with the author, where they challenge me with some strange and confusing and distracting device, and I'm supposed to unravel it and go "I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE" and take great personal satisfaction and pride in our mutual cleverness?

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby General Zod » 2010-11-21 03:24pm

Bakustra wrote:
General Zod wrote:It's arguable that even Harry Potter isn't all that original.


There's barely any overlap between Hunter and Potter besides their appearances. You are right, in a way, but not with the example you used.


I was more referring to the whole "Child wizards with powerful destinies and a lot of fame in the magic-world."
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Bakustra » 2010-11-21 03:31pm

General Zod wrote:
Bakustra wrote:
General Zod wrote:It's arguable that even Harry Potter isn't all that original.


There's barely any overlap between Hunter and Potter besides their appearances. You are right, in a way, but not with the example you used.


I was more referring to the whole "Child wizards with powerful destinies and a lot of fame in the magic-world."


That's still only a very broad similarity between the two. But Harry Potter is just a boarding-school novel with magic in it, whereas the Books of Magic are Neil Gaiman fitting a story around reconciling the different forms of magic in DC and getting as many cameos in as possible.
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I mean, how often am I to enter a game of riddles with the author, where they challenge me with some strange and confusing and distracting device, and I'm supposed to unravel it and go "I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE" and take great personal satisfaction and pride in our mutual cleverness?

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Stark » 2010-11-21 03:37pm

I tihnk this really falls into TVTROPES territory. Nobody will care if you go into heavily-treaded territory but do something interesting or good. Its only bad when you're writing Forgotten Realms TSR Novel #7,621 and people can recognise the part of the player's handbook that the author is reading.

At worst it just reflects on either poor authors (or lazy authors) or more likely, a fanbase that just wants more of the same.

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Serafina » 2010-11-21 04:22pm

"It's better to copy well than to do it poorly on your own".
I don't mind if your idea is not original - i only care what you are doing with it. If you are a good author, you can turn any old idea into a interesting story.

Now, stealing the story of something (that is, the plot is the same) is something else than stealing an idea. It can still be well-done, but only if there are some interesting alternate interpretations to that story or some good twists you can inject. But the risk that you are really just copying poorly without any creativity on your own.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Xon » 2010-11-21 04:42pm

You can not "steal" an idea. It may be plagiarism, and/or copyright violation, or just bloody poor taste but it is not stealing.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Lord of the Abyss » 2010-11-21 05:18pm

Writers have been using each other as inspirations as long as there have been writers. I don't think that writing a Tolkienesqe fantasy is necessarily just copying Tolkien any more than historical fiction is just a copy of history.

And as a practical matter, if writers only wrote down their original ideas there'd be a lot less writing and a lot more stupid but original ideas.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby General Schatten » 2010-11-22 01:18am

Bakustra wrote:Vampires are generally angsty Anne Rice-types. Werewolves used to change under the full moon, but now they can control the transformation and have gone from being savage monsters to noble beasts.

I'll give you Vampires but not Werewolves. Of the major gothic fantasy series and movies that feature them only World of Darkness ones are all noble beasts that can willfully transform. American Werewolf in London couldn't change at will and the plot of American Werewolf in Paris actually focuses on a serum that allows werewolves to induce transformation rather than waiting for a full moon, Underworld has Werewolves that can transform at will but they're hardly noble and they're offshoots of nearly mindless beasts. Even if we include Harry Potter and... Twilight, only Twilight has any that can transform at will and even then they're not considered true werewolves as the traditional ones in Europe and Asia are all raving monsters and the Quileute Tribe can't spread lycanthropy through bites and claws.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Zixinus » 2010-11-22 04:48am

People like familiar stuff.

Plus, the main thing about stories is the characters, drama and plot. Whether you used a wholly original idea for the race of the characters or not is secondary to those.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Lurks-no-More » 2010-11-22 06:46am

Bakustra wrote:That's still only a very broad similarity between the two. But Harry Potter is just a boarding-school novel with magic in it, whereas the Books of Magic are Neil Gaiman fitting a story around reconciling the different forms of magic in DC and getting as many cameos in as possible.

Yeah, that's much too broad. IIRC, both Gaiman and Rowling are on the record that the similarities are just coincidental.

As for the Wheel of Time, it's a hodgepodge of stolen stuff from a variety of mythical sources; the Aiel seemed like a very clear Fremen rip-off to me, back when I was still reading WoT.

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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby dworkin » 2010-11-22 03:48pm

Lurks-no-More wrote:As for the Wheel of Time, it's a hodgepodge of stolen stuff from a variety of mythical sources; the Aiel seemed like a very clear Fremen rip-off to me, back when I was still reading WoT.


Seemed? They are the Fremen. I thought they had got tired of the benefit and had decided to do any work offerred.

As to the OP. Writing a fantasy novel is a lot like writing about a place everyone is reasonably familiar with, like Australia. People expect certain things out of a book set in Australia*, likewise in a fantasy setting.

*In the interests of not setting off a flamewar / pissing off all the Australian members I will not say what those things specifically are.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Skgoa » 2010-11-26 04:01pm

Serafina wrote:"It's better to copy well than to do it poorly on your own".
I don't mind if your idea is not original - i only care what you are doing with it. If you are a good author, you can turn any old idea into a interesting story.

Now, stealing the story of something (that is, the plot is the same) is something else than stealing an idea. It can still be well-done, but only if there are some interesting alternate interpretations to that story or some good twists you can inject. But the risk that you are really just copying poorly without any creativity on your own.

This. I don't care if the author has taken absolutely EVERYTHING from prior works - and lets face it, almost everything has been done already - if its GOOD. And an awful book/movie/game doesn't get any better just because its breaking every last one convention of the medium and/or genre. I.e. Avatar: its a really really great movie, but I could have told you the entire plot right after hearing the basic premise for the first time and I always knew (roughly) what people would say or do several minutes in advance.
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Re: Is it ok to steal peoples idea's in Fantasy?

Postby Broken » 2010-11-26 08:55pm

Well as Pablo Picasso put it, "Good artists copy, Great Artists steal".

Creation of entirely new and unique ideas for any artistic endeavor is an elusive and perhaps unreachable goal. Especially for artists/writers who often do lots of research and study previous works until it can become difficult to remember the origin of a particular image, phrase, or even theme. Of course, that doesn't excuse the flood of mostly worthless imitations of great works, but so long as one recognizes them for the pulp, profit-driven amusements they usually are, some of them are can be surprisingly entertaining. Just because no one will mistake a popcorn action blockbuster for the height of cinema doesn't mean its not fun to just turn off your brain and enjoy the pretty explosions.
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