Is it plagiarism if you don’t know?

For about 14 years I’ve been working on and off on a novella that became a novel and is now back to being a novella again. I was determined to wrap it up or chuck it out this year, and have been putting in some serious polishing work. Knowing I’d have to write a sales pitch for it if I was going to try get it published, I started reading some popular books in the sub-genre and just this morning came across, in a book by a HUGELY famous author, a scene that was almost exactly the same as a scene in my story. It was so weird. The originals of both mine and his stories were written around the same time, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even subliminally copy his (and unless he was hanging round my loungeroom secretly I know he didn’t copy mine), but there it was.

What do you do in that situation? I’ve just rewritten the scene so it’s a little less eerily similar. But did I need to?

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4 thoughts on “Is it plagiarism if you don’t know?

  1. Yeah I’ve had a bit of that here and there. One of the main threads of the novel I’m writing is essentially the same twist as a short French film, a Terry Gilliam remake of that short french film, and kind of sort of the same as a bit in The Time Traveller’s wife. I figured that the common element is time travel, which is what my book’s about, not me reading and nicking shit. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  2. The old adage about poor writers steal, great writers borrow comes to mind, but it’s doesn’t exactly solve your issue. You’ve probably done the right thing, adjusting it so it’s not a doppelganger. Other than that, if the context and setting is sufficiently different, leave it be…

    (of course, worth noting that sighting a doppelganger was originally a harbinger of your own death… maybe your novel(la) is doomed anyway 😛 )

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