Ripping off the Greats

I'm not entirely sure how to say this so I'll just blurt it out. Sorry in advance.

This is primarily intended for Wildbow and Drew Hayes but it's general enough that I thought this might be the better venue, rather than cyberstalking for emails. If anyone disagrees just say the word and I'll ask the editors to delete the thread.

I write a superhero-ish web serial that has more than a few similarities to your own works. I don't think it crosses the line into plagiarism or even being derivative, at least no more so than the genre as a whole. However, I've had enough comments made on my site that I felt like it should be addressed. I won't even attempt to deny that there are a lot of points of comparison, and a few homages, just like there are with several of the big name comics. Unlike Marvel and DC, I actually respect you two and realize that even a minor issue could have real implications for you.

If you feel that I have crossed a line, or even that I'm tiptoeing near one, please let me know and I'll take whatever action is appropriate up to and including shutting it down. I'm not an active poster in these forums but I do pay attention to them. You can also just leave a comment on my site or e-mail me (unillustratedauthor at gmail dot com).

To everyone else: sorry if I come off as a drama queen but this seems important to me.

Maybe you're overthinking this? If it was a problem, I'm pretty sure one of your many reviewers would have mentioned it.

You're probably right and I don't think it's actually at the level of a problem or I'd be doing something different. I've just had enough readers make the "this character really reminds me of a guy from..." comment that I felt like I should do something. I'm relatively new to the whole web serial thing and don't want to step on any toes.

I'll let them speak for themselves, but there isn't a single thing in Citadel that I have read that could be seen as a rip of an existing serial novel , including ones you probably haven't read (flyover city. read flyover city! and id say star harbor nights, except AE made if vanish....) that I can't point to another source that probably existed before they were born that THEY could have gotten it from. For one thing, wild cards. (read wild cards. For the love of god, read wild cards!)

I already commented on your site, and the only thing that's KIND of close to being a 'rip off' is your ranking/rating challenge system, but even then not really.

Any sort of 'superpowers training' fiction that uses SOME kind of challenge system is going to look quite a bit like anyone else's unless you go WAY out of your way to make it make less sense when reading it. I think you're overthinking it, and being a little bit of a drama queen ^_^

Well that's reassuring.

@Alex I have read Wild Cards. It is excellent, at least the older stuff. The more recent ones have lost some of their appeal to me. Star Harbor Nights disappeared just when it hit the top of my 'to read' list. Flyover City is near the top of that same list.

@Oniwasabi I'm pretty sure I am overthinking it and being a... what you said. I guess it's just one of those things that hits a button for me. I'd rather err on the safe side than let it keep bugging me I guess.

ANYONE who write superhero fiction these days is going to have it compared to Worm. It's just... going to happen. Even the people who started writing before Worm got started are going to be compared to Worm. I mean, let's all recognize that right off the bat. :D

(Someone once mentioned Curveball in a forum by saying "it's not as good as Worm, but what is?" Heh. *shakes fist at Wildbow in impotent rage*)

(Note: above is not actually impotent rage)

And if you want ripping off, the guy I kill off in the very first issue of Curveball is intended to be an obvious stand-in for Captain America. (TVTopes actually calls this "Captain Ersatz," and I Captain Ersazted the hell out of Liberty, let me tell you what.)

As Oni said, it's pretty difficult not to have commonalities in different works, and people are going to recognize the better known characters before your own. Unless you are actually lifting prose from other works I don't see a problem.

Yet another point in the "Massive Overreaction" column. :)

@Ubersoft Apollo and the Midnighter started out the same way as Liberty and I can think of quite a few others. If it was just being compared to Worm, well I take that as a compliment pure and simple. I think it was the third or fourth time someone told me Fractal really reminded them of Coil. Their powers are similar but that's it, MO, mindset and even which side of the hero/villain line they're on are different. If he'd been intended as an Ersatz type character it would've been different but he's not only an original character, he's one I was intending to use before I ever read Worm. If people were comparing my duplicator guy to Multiple Man from Marvel or Platoon from Wearing the Cape it'd make more sense to me, there's a lot more similarity. That idea doesn't bother me, they're genuinely similar characters and I knew that when I wrote him. Possibly it's just that I never thought of the two as much alike and now I'm second guessing myself?

Ah well. I seem to be in the clear, morally and perception-wise, so I'll just try not to worry about it.

Honestly I recommend ignoring anyone that wants to point out that your characters have a power that's just like someone else's in another superhero/superpower fiction. Seriously, original powers at this point are non-existent. They've ALL been done before. You should especially ignore someone comparing powers like that when they're only a little bit similar (Coil could keep ONE alternate reality going for reference, Fractal could do what, hundreds?) It all boils down to making sure the characters WITH the powers are yours, unique, and interesting.

Seriously, every super power ever was being copied from someone else LONG before Wildbow wrote Worm, with the possible exception of some REALLY worthless ones ^_^

What Oniwasabi said.

These things can happen. I think we're all influenced by things we've read to greater or lesser degrees. When it comes to superhero fiction in particular, though, there's a limited and specific arsenal of tropes from which stories are constructed; a certain amount of overlap is inevitable.

You are right, in my opinion, to be concerned enough to ask the question, but I don't think you've crossed the line. Someone would have made an unequivocal point of it if you had. The Internet can always be counted on to tell you about it in detail when you mess up.

Just be true to your vision and your story. Don't steal from other writers, but if you're inspired by them, run with that. It can be a tricky line to walk, but if you don't walk it you'll never find your balance.

My thoughts upon reading the original post went as follows:

Realistically the only way Wildbow and Drew can go find out if they feel like anything's been stolen from them is to go read your serial. I'm guessing that they're at least as busy as I am. As such, it probably isn't worth their while to go through your serial looking for things to get angry about.

Also, Drew deliberately avoids reading similar things to his own work for fear of unintentionally stealing from them. I go the opposite direction there. I tend to think that if I read widely in my genre, I'll probably mix things together in ways that seem original, or at least be aware when I'm doing things the same.

As other people in this thread have said, there are only so many ways you can do something. It's not important to be original/uninfluenced in every detail. What's important is that the details support the kind of story that you want to tell.

Thus, while my story currently includes a kind of "super school" too, I'm trying to tell a story in which supers have more influence than they ought to. Drew's telling one in which they're more of an elite, superpowered police force, and far from above the law. If I grab too much stuff from him, that would be a bad thing. If I read his story and realize that there are things in his training sequence that realistically ought to be there in my story, then I'm just learning from his example. If I then handle those issues in a way that fits organically in my story, I probably won't steal from him either. Stories have their own requirements, and in my experience if you're paying attention to your characters and your plot, you'll have to modify outside ideas substantially.

As for the "this character reminds me of" issue...You have my sympathies. Readers of my story are less likely to compare characters to Worm than to mainstream comics. Thus the main character is occasionally compared to Iron Man (he's a genius with powered armor) even though his personality is completely different. My attitude is that similarities are okay, but being too similar isn't.

Thus a blind lawyer with heightened senses in a devil costume is right out, but a telepathic, telekinetic lawyer who's not blind is totally okay, and so is a teenage girl with heightened senses.

Basically though my core message is not to worry about it. Legion is influenced by David Brin's Uplift stories, various Roger Zelazny books, bits of Lovecraft, and a lot of comics. It's not a bad thing. Chances are that some people have read my stuff and used it in one form or another, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I think it's kind of cool.

I've been compared to Deadpool before, though I'd prefer a comparison to The Joker instead. Still, WDiR currently has a one-eyed hitman in orange and black armor who can outfight superheroes...and he's not Deathstroke from DC. He's just a wisecracking jester who turns invisible, likes to attack people from behind, but isn't particularly durable compared to some of the others around him...but not Shaco from League of Legends. And also a hired killer exhibiting shades of nihilism who changes his appearances all the time, but not a Faceless Man from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Similarity happens. Heck, I've had characters and even a story arc heavily influenced by a musical before, and a later commentator figured it out. But in my case, it's also so different that you can't tell what's going to happen based on the original story.

In your case, a lot of people who started writing during or after Worm's run have been influenced by Worm. It happens. Just think of the similarity as a challenge. You already know people have a reference point for those familiar pieces. It can even bring people in who prefer those elements. Now is your chance to show them something unique, too.

Ignore the words of support, that site must be shut down! (Very obviously kidding)

I know the worry you have well, it was one of my primary concerns when I started SP. At the time there weren't many superhero web-serials, but I was concerned about coming in too close to other existing properties, primarily X-men since that's also a super school story. Eventually I realized that if you do a lot of work on world and character building, your story is bound to take on a wholly unique direction.

The getting compared thing sucks, but I think it's something everyone writing in a genre this well-tread has to deal with. People have pointed out the X-men similarities in my world, but they also referenced a web-comic called PS 238 that I hadn't heard of. Looked it up and found out it was a really similar concept to SP, though with elementary schoolers instead of college. Oh, and it predated me by like half a decade. Even without seeing it I'd made something with a lot of similarities just because we were probably inspired by the same source material. So yeah, these things will happen.

One of the worst enemies in this struggle is source memory, which can cause you to recall a cool plot element, character trait, or power idea, but not where you saw it before, or even the fact that you did already see it. As Jim mentioned, that's why I avoid reading other works in the genre. It's really hard, because there's so many I see the descriptions for and want to check out (particularly looking forward to Worm) but because writing this piece is spanning over five years just so far there's too much chance for me to read, forget, and accidentally copy. That's not the solution for everyone, of course, my memory is just particularly crappy so I take extra steps. I'd say focus on being aware of where ideas, especially ones that pop out of the blue, come from. Like others have said more eloquently above: inspiration is great, copying not so much.

Closing thesis: You're not nuts for having the worry, it hits most of us at point or another, but as one of the people mentioned I wouldn't want you to feel bad over a few similarities. Commentors happen, but if you know you haven't crossed the line then trust in that.

And it just goes to show! The fact that Drew was unfamiliar with ps238 kinda surprises me, as there are a lot of similarities not just in the setup of the school (which is just common sense, in both cases) but in the way that a lot of the, power versus responsibility, types of supers, is run, plot wise.

Also, superheroes in general are ripoffs of faerie tales. look how many super powers can directly relate to powers and gifts people have in faerie tales.

*looks over at the burnt papers and blank wordpress site that are the only remains of months' work*

Well, that'll teach me to act before reading past the first sentence of a post. :)

Thanks everyone, and especially Drew. I really appreciate the support and will cease being a big old crybaby, although I will keep my original concerns (or a far more reasonable version thereof) and your reassurances in mind. I've read far too much, good and bad, to be confident that anything I write is 100% original. I'll just stick with being confident that it's mine. Hell, it's not like Shakespeare was writing original stories in his day.

Of course, the only thing my writing's got in common with his is that they'll both bore the average highschooler.

nope, you seem to have a penchant for people getting what they deserve at times.