View Full Version : A question about research and plagiarism

William Blake Bradbury
12-29-2004, 09:01 AM
I realize the irony of my asking about this on a messaging board, considering I'm a professional journalist with a bachelor's degree in communication and media law, but I have a question about plagiarism. It occurred to me recently that the reason I'm having such a hard time writing a short story is that I don't do enough research. One of the best ways to place subtle detail into your writing is through extensive knowledge about the exotic locales about which you're writing. If you want to know about germophobia, look up Howard Hughes, and so forth, and so forth. But how much of this research are you allowed to integrate into your writing? I'm aware of public domain and all of that, but, say, if I have a character's who's a germophobe, and I read somewhere that Hughes refused to shake a person's hand unless he'd first wrapped his in tissue paper, am I allowed to use that in my short story? If I read a funny anecdote about Katharine Hepburn somewhere, do I need to credit that in a short story? I know you can't copywrite an idea, only the expression of an idea, but I read short stories like "The Shell Collector," where the author credits his sources, but I read other stories like "Farangs," included in "Best New Voices 2005," which also obviously required research, but there's no citing there. I have a lot of anecdotes floating around in my head from my education, derived from textbooks and teachers, do I need to cite these? Do the same rules in non-fiction extend to short and long fiction? Just thought I'd ask:hat

12-30-2004, 06:22 PM
William, I don't think that you could run into any trouble with off-handed remarks in a short story. That is, unless you slander someone's character or humiliate an estate (deceased celebrity) I would call it fair use. Comedians onstage run a bigger risk of violating someone's persona, so I think that you're quite safe.

I've had tremendous difficulty with the plagiarism issue in writing my book. I've nearly copied paragraphs and pages verbatim, changing wordage and style where I felt I wouldn't run the risk. It's extremely difficult when I must research everything on several subjects having to do with paleontology,
history, geology and such. Sometimes I think I'm headed for a lawsuit and block myself up, refusing to write anymore.