Mark Twain said it best…
We are influenced by our favorite media. Whether it be in fiction, non-fiction, music, or elsewhere.
My influences come from a lot of different places. I love video games, movies, books, and music. I play guitar and sometimes I have this phenomenon happen to me. I’ll have a guitar piece I think is 100% original inspired by God himself. Then I listen to a song I never heard before… and it sounds exactly like it.
I had this phenomenon happen quite a few times with Black Sabbath, Stone Sour, and Michael Schenker Group. That’s fine because I love those bands and their influence rubbed off on me. It wasn’t ripping them off or plagiarizing them. I had subconsciously come up with something similar to my influences.
With writing I draw a lot of inspiration from the music I’m listening to. I always have music playing in the background when I write. None of my influences ever really came from books. It was always from outside material. Video games, music, or movies I love.
Whenever I write something that sounds like something I know is already written I try to avoid it at all costs. Sometimes you can’t help but have bits and pieces similar to other fiction. For example, in the video game thing. Hideo Kojima, the maker of Metal Gear Solid games, writes complicated plots.
He based one of his main villains, Liquid Snake, on Alec Trevelyan from the James Bond movie Goldeneye. They are different characters, but Liquid is INSPIRED by a bond movie. Not a rip-off or plagiarism.
Liquid Snake differs vastly from Alec Trevelyan. Play the game and go watch Goldeneye. Unless you really nitpick, you won’t see the similarities but they are very subtle. Most villains are alike.
There’s a difference between inspiration and plagiarism. Plagiarism is if I took one of my favorite books, Jurassic Park, copied the entire book, and added a few things to it. That’s theft, not inspiration.
Plagiarism is not to be confused with Fan Fiction. That is taking someone else’s work and making your own story based on that work. You can’t sell it, because of copyright issues, but it’s not plagiarism.
If plagiarism was “ripping off” anything that’s ever been written… then anything with a dragon in it is written by a dirty thief. Stories have common elements and plot structures along with a lot of books having archetypes with characters similar to each other.
Really think about anything in fantasy. There’s always the knight, the maiden in distress, his followers, and a big evil somewhere he has to go kill. That’s the formula for 99% of fantasy. It’s all inspired from other fantasy stories. That’s a genre, not plagiarism.
When you are writing Sci-Fi, it’s not plagiarism to have space, aliens, laser guns, and all the other stuff that Star Wars has. As long as one of your character’s doesn’t say “Luke I am your father” and cuts his son’s hand off you should be fine. If that were the case then Star Wars was a ripoff of Flash Gordon. Truth hurts wear a cup.