Genre conventions and the ethics of plagiarism

I don’t feel any of the guilt normally attached to “plagiarism,” which seems to me organically connected to creativity itself.

— Jonathan Lethem

Kaavya  Viswanathan’s How Opal Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life: a piece of popular fiction, written quickly for undemanding young readers, displays some “similarities” to an earlier work of popular fiction for undemanding young readers. Excuse me, but isn’t the entire publishing industry built on telling the exact same stories over and over again? Since when is that news? This is teen literature; it’s genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before. When I worked at a newspaper, we were routinely dispatched to “match” a story from the Times: to do a new version of someone else’s idea. But had we  “matched” any of the Times‘s words — even the most banal phrases — it could have been a firing offense. The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of minor differences: because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence. Trial by Google.

— Reality Hunger

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