Taking Inspiration v.s. Infringement - "Abandoned" WIPs and Concepts

This is something I have always wondered about, but I always worried about how to word it. I was wondering what thoughts were about doing ‘similar concepts’ to abandoned WIPs?

Obviously, I’m not saying to take all core elements from a specific game (characters, specific aspects of the setting, etc). However, lets say I just abandoned my WIP today, stopped all work on it and disappeared from the forum. (Perish the thought that you would all finally be rid of me, I am going nowhere!) While I am actively working on it, I would find it a bit weird if someone else also made an East Asian story set in a fantasy setting inspired by Tang dynasty China following an Immortal who takes in a kid after etc etc…

Let’s say someone liked the WIP though, once active work stops for like a year, or something, what are thoughts on similar settings or inspirations? (Assuming different characters, etc etc). All of this assumes that there is a taboo regarding making wips following the same concept at the same time, which I have percieved but am not certain whether it is really a thing or not lol.

Obviously, just taking someone else’s story and rewriting it is… ‘cringe’? Worthy of a grimace, but I mean moreso taking premise to run it your own direction. I’ve also wondered whether or not people care if a WIP pops up where they didn’t know it was similar to another project already running on the forums.

Also, I hate using myself as an example I am just exceptionally uncomfortable of the idea of listing names or something. I am just curious about thoughts I suppose.

(I had no idea what the appropriate tag or title for this conversation would be)

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I don’t see any problem with it. The only thing that’s iffy to me is what if the original author is motivated to restart their project only to see a similar WIP. I think in that particular case it would be awkward, but we should agree to just accept both into the fold.

It isn’t unusual for people to have similar story ideas. It’s just how they develop the ideas that are unique

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I was just wondering, because I had thought about it on a few occasions, how sad it makes me to see a project I really enjoyed conceptually but has remained untouched for years. Then, because the concept already exists, I am uncomfortable approaching anything vying close. Then there is the worse version of that where you start working on something only to realize that it already exists, but had stopped receiving updates a while ago, and yet you still don’t want to step on toes just in case.

The rational part of my brain recognizes that even the same story in concept will drastically vary from presentation, to how the initial plot develops, to the characterization or even what the individual authors chose to focus on… I think this is more a problem because of the relatively limited history of IF relative to the entirety of history of literature.

I feel our plight is also amplified by the fact that we are far more likely to see initial intents or premises without seeing the final product (rarely do we find ourselves presented with the opportunity to see books before publishing, and yet IF thrives off of releasing a premise and working from there).

And suddenly, I am keenly reminded of “The Simpsons did it!”

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I actually don’t think that so-called abandonment should make an especially big difference here. If your “inspiration” is close enough to spur arguments about plagiarism, where you’ve changed so little that it’s recognizably an identical story, then that’s wrong even if the author hasn’t shown up on the forum for a decade.

If you’re inspired to write something “different enough” to avoid plagiarism accusations, on the other hand, then it doesn’t really matter if there’s another similar story actively in progress. Most people will probably accept it as something in the same subgenre and enjoy it even though it’s recognizably similar to another IF.

The key thing I’d like to note is that something left alone for

is probably but not necessarily abandoned, and definitely shouldn’t be treated as if plagiarism considerations don’t apply. About a decade ago, we had a forum conversation about this, where one forum member was arguing for “salvaging” the ideas from WIPs that had gone silent, comparing it to rescuing neglected children. I’ll just quote a few things I said then:

As writers, we can expect that people don’t plagiarize our work – but we can’t expect that people won’t be inspired to write similar pieces, whether we’ve just posted our work online or commercially published it. Once it’s out in the world, if people llke it, some of them will start trying to capture what they liked about it in their own writing. That’s part of how our stories take life.

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I didn’t even think about how subgenres all need to start with its progenitor. I’ll post the more detailed form below, but I specified similar concept not the same story. Those are two tangibly different things, I believe. I’m sorry if the title wasn’t clear, I changed it, probably will change it again lol.


Abandonment and 'Plagiarism'

I actually don’t think that so-called abandonment should make an especially big difference here. If your “inspiration” is close enough to spur arguments about plagiarism, where you’ve changed so little that it’s recognizably an identical story, then that’s wrong even if the author hasn’t shown up on the forum for a decade.

If you’re inspired to write something “different enough” to avoid plagiarism accusations, on the other hand, then it doesn’t really matter if there’s another similar story actively in progress. Most people will probably accept it as something in the same subgenre and enjoy it even though it’s recognizably similar to another IF.

Ahh, I see, thank you for your insight on this. I did not intend to say ‘make a story so similar that it could infringe copywrite.’ (Also, people will argue ‘plagarism’ a the smallest of similarities, I am not talking about copy pasting lines between stories).

I specified that what I was talking about wasn’t taking someone else’s work and essentially ‘rewriting’ it, I was talking about taking a similar premise and working from there. I don’t think plagarism becomes alright just because the original writer got busy for a few years or something. The length of time is completely arbitrary by the way, I was just listing a random time that felt like long enough to be unlikely to get more attention if the author hadn’t said anything publically about a hiatus.


Anticipation and Expectation

As writers, we can expect that people don’t plagiarize our work – but we can’t expect that people won’t be inspired to write similar pieces, whether we’ve just posted our work online or commercially published it. Once it’s out in the world, if people llke it, some of them will start trying to capture what they liked about it in their own writing. That’s part of how our stories take life.

I can understand this, and how a writer responds to such a thing depends. Some might take it as a high form of flattery, that someone is so inspired that they would seek to create something inspired from it, while others might take it as a slight at the way they chose to handle their story.


Response to @Protagonist :

Protagonist

Yes! It would be different if they had the same scenes for their prologue, or the same set of events or the like… But I guess I feel like so far from what I have seen there appears to be trepidation with taking similar beats or concepts from other stories, even those which have not been updated in some time. That is where my curiosity or confusion is I suppose…? Maybe I don’t even know exactly how or what I am try to ask! But I am happy to open a dialogue regardless since I hadn’t noticed much discussion on the topic


Perhaps whether it is ‘abandoned’ is completely irrelevant, and this is a bigger discussion about just inspiration.

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In that case, I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that.

For example, a few years ago I posted a ChoiceScript game where you play Mordred from the Arthurian legends. A bit later another author also wrote a game where you play Mordred. Their execution of the concept was completely different to mine in every respect, and I certainly don’t own the character or setting. I’ve no idea whether they were even aware of my story, and either way there was absolutely no reason why I or anyone else should take issue with it.

If someone were to copy scenes or characters then that’s something that people could reasonably object to, but a similar premise (e.g. an immortal character in a fantasy setting inspired by Tang China) really isn’t.

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Oh, absolutely – you were overall quite clear about that. But even so, it’s hard to keep up the distinction 100% consistently… for example,

should really be “taking someone else’s concept and writing a different story with it,” right?

There’s a clear difference between concept and story, but not a clear boundary… the two blur into each other as your “concept” becomes more detailed and specific. But ultimately, our stories rather than our concepts are what the law protects, and what most readers respond to. I don’t think you should feel uncomfortable about using a concept you originally saw elsewhere, as long as your realization of it is distinctive.

Yep. But that last part, as stinging as it can be – and I’ve seen some awfully stinging versions of it, where the second author’s scorn for the original realization of the concept is 100% explicit – goes with the territory of being a writer.

Please don’t take any of my posts here as negative with regards to either your intent or what you’re saying. I agree that dialogue on this is worthwhile, and am just trying to contribute to it.

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Response to @Havenstone :
I think that concept and story can be distinguished pretty clearly personally. Synopsis vs Meat, more or less, more details below.


Concept Versus Story

There’s a clear difference between concept and story, but not a clear boundary… the two blur into each other as your “concept” becomes more detailed and specific. But ultimately, our stories rather than our concepts are what the law protects, and what most readers respond to. I don’t think you should feel uncomfortable about using a concept you originally saw elsewhere, as long as your realization of it is distinctive.

I think that is fair, I am glad I made the post though. I know I myself always felt it was weird. Part of it was my own anxiety about accidentally making something similar to someone else’s story. I am always one who dives too deep and would be quite heartbroken if a project I started was equivocated to something else while my intent is elsewhere.

I would argue that there is a pretty clear distinction between story and concept though. Story is the meat, Concept is the more or less the synopsis. Writing prompts readily show how you can have thousands of people take the same synopsis wildly different directions.

Also, I am very glad to have your contributions! I think that it is important to hear a variety of opinions and to learn from one another, otherwise I wouldn’t have made this post!


'Improving' Upon a Story You Hate

Yep. But that last part, as stinging as it can be – and I’ve seen some awfully stinging versions of it, where the second author’s scorn for the original realization of the concept is 100% explicit – goes with the territory of being a writer.

The dumb part is that part of me can relate to it, I have a few stories of which my opinions are… less savoury, and sometimes my head is filled with ideas of how it could have been done differently in a way that would be more impactful to me. But still, I am unsure as to whether using spite to serve as your inspiration is really a good idea since you will always associate what you did with something you didn’t really like. Plus, why dedicate so much of your life to something you originally disliked just because you think you can ‘surpass’ them. I would rather work off of positive inspiration than negative at the end of the day, I suppose.


Response to @TheGhost :

'Finishing a Story'

If you labelled it as fan work and linked back to the original, while not profiting from it, I would imagine it is similar to fanfiction. I wonder whether there would be an issue with that…? I can’t tell you more about that though, I don’t see why you wouldn’t reach out! What is the worst that could happen, they say no? Then you are in the same position that you would have been if you had not reached out!

I’ve thought about reaching out to the author of “United We Stand” many times in the past to see if I could get permission to complete it or at least see if he was open to someone else completing it. To to be honest, I just don’t know where that falls upon the boundaries of plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty, especially as there’s a non-zero chance he goes back to finish the project. So yeah, it’s a confusing bit.

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If you ever wanted to pick up an abandoned WIP you’d probably need to do a little paperwork. Make sure you contact the writer and get it in writing that they agree to let you finish their work and use their prior writing in that pursuit. If you did that, you’d be all set. But obviously that’d be a real pain to accomplish.

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As the synopsis gets longer and “meatier,” though, the distinction can get blurry. If my synopsis is “quest fantasy where a diverse party has to work together to destroy an evil magical artifact before the dark lord recaptures it,” that’s a Tolkien riff that can go in a lot of different directions when it’s turned into a story, despite its recognizable inspiration.

If my synopsis is, “quest fantasy where a party of elves, dwarves, humans and (above all) halflings has to throw an evil magical artifact into a volcano before the dark lord recaptures it, and they’re both thwarted and aided by a corrupted, maybe-redeemable halfling who is obsessed with the artifact, and the warrior half of the party ends up spending much of their time defending the Great City that’s about to fall to the dark lord’s army,” we’re getting into dodgier territory. And of course synopses can get a lot more detailed than that, with people still describing it as their “concept” rather than story.

At some point, even before strict legal definitions of plagiarism kick in, and even if the words of the story aren’t identical, you get to the stage where the author ought to be embarrassed at how much they’ve nicked from another author. Like the early Tolkien ripoffs.

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I guess, I know what my own intent when I ask about it is, but I can’t speak for anyone else. I would personally think of something a lot less direct, taking an element from a few different stories turns your own concept into entirely its own thing. Or taking a few primary elements and turning it into your own thing. Like someone else said, “An immortal who takes in a kid in a setting inspired by Tang dynasty China” is something that can be done a thousand different ways. But if you went further, adding more and more elements, then obviously that is a bit different to me. I usually think of synopsis to be under tweet length lol. I guess technically though, its just another word for summary.

I myself took inspiration from Moribito, the Girl from the Other Side, and some other stuffs–

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like they say, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. i thought about this when i found out choices (the app) was doing a guinevere (with an i) story. it immediately brought me back to our own guenevere, one of the most famous WIPs here. maybe choices drew inspiration from it, or maybe they never even knew about it at all. still, it’s funny how works that can be considered “dead” for us have alternative ways of showing up.

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I’m never giving up on @jeantown. :slight_smile: But I know what you mean.

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Taking inspiration from works and “crossing the line” is something that has been part of the game world (and I imagine writing) from the beginning.

One of the biggest gaming controversies is how WoW developers took “what works” from many existing games and (then current) game development theory and used it all for their own game.

My belief: Coincidental parallels are different from intentional parallels.

In my mind, I must acknowledge those that I take intentional inspiration or derivative work from, even if permission was granted and/or it was something not copyrighted or reserved.

My Patchworks project is directly inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, so I will indicate this in my credits. @Jaybirdy has helped me with a scripting issue, and so I will also acknowledge them in the credits.

On the other hand, multiple people that have read parts of my Patchworks story, say that they see “shades of Pennywise” in my story. I never watched the Netflix series, so I will only acknowledge the coincidental parallels.

I have been on the other side. Things I have written in mods and manuals, and localization material written into games themselves, have been used by others, both “directly” and in “concept”.

In some cases, I was/am okay with that. In others, I am not. Often, it was the approach that these others took towards me that made the difference in how I felt about it.

One thing that you, as a creator, should always keep in mind is that something “abandoned” is never truly abandoned by its creator unless explicitly said so. “Cancelled” does not mean abandoned, nor does silence.

Taking another’s work and “completing” it so it sees the light of day is a valid thing, but only with explicit permission and acknowledgement. @adrao will be working on such a project soon. I’d love for him to add to this discussion.

Many developers/writers use the same source material. That isn’t the issue. The issue is: execution.

My hope and expectations is that: even though I am drawing on the same Greek myths that Mary Shelly used, my execution and delivery of my work will show a marked difference.

The WoW developers were criticized because their execution of concepts and mechanics did not differentiate themselves from those they were “inspired” by.

No matter how well their game did, this is something that followed them professionally everywhere they went, even 20 years later.

She has recently affirmed she is still working on her wonderful and magical story. She said she will continue to work on it and never abandon it. (per her Tumblr)

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I agree with Havenstone. It’s practically impossible to create a fully original story since most concepts have already been written. Modern humans have been around for 200.000 years. However, there is a difference, like he mentioned, to an inspiration and to straight up plagiarism.

A story where your character leads a revolt against an empire that oppresses its citizens and other nations to extract a particular resource is a concept. I can be talking about Dune, Spartacus, Haiti or Choice of Rebels. Now, if that empire has a religious organisation that practices not magic, but theurgy, and the resource they are looking for is blood, now that will raise eyebrows.

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Hm, i mean. I guess it would depend on how the person went about it?

Like, did they blatantly try to make it seem like it was all their idea, did they ever try to contact the original creator to ask for permission or if theyd be okay with it. Or at the very least, if the author couldnt be reached, mention them in the post announcing it. And at the end of the game or something. Like, a grateful message at the end of the game.

If i had to leave a project behind, I dont think i would mind someone picking it up? At least it would mean they someone liked the idea behind it.

TL;DR: I suppose it just depends on how the person goes about it.

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Honestly, unless you’re blatantly copy-pasting text and stealing character names, I don’t think people mind.

Take Wayhaven; how close a concept do you think is “too close”? Imagine I made a romance-focused game with:

  • A team of 4 gender-variable supernatural/magic ROs including a jerky one, a nice one, a flirty one, and a stoic one
  • Who watch over the PC
  • Who is human-but-special, and initially isn’t aware of the magic/supernatural elements in the setting
  • And has a parent who they might have a strained relationship with
  • Featuring a scene where you choose a favorite beverage
  • And a meet the team handshake scene where the nice one is nice, the jerky one is a jerk and refuses basic social interactions, the flirty one is incredibly forward/borderline sexual harassment, and the stoic one is verbally constipated.

I can think of at least 3 non-Wayhaven games that fit this description, and they received a warm welcome. IME, as long you change some things up, people will accept it as its own thing.

In fact, I think there is quite a bit of demand for remixes of popular games. “Give me the same thing, only different” applies just as much to IF players as moviegoers, IMO.

All that said, I get the discomfort. While we’re all strangers, the relationship you have with another forum user (even if it’s just being members of the same forum) is a lot more personal than the relationship you have to say, Disney.

I have a project I ended up discontinuing after discovering United We Stand (a game I love, BTW), because I personally felt “20th century political game where you play as an MP of a fictional Central European country” was just too small a niche to have two games with that premise.

If it was a more populated genre like superheroes or urban fantasy, I would feel less awkward having similar concepts.


And yet, according to the article, even a shameless ripoff did some good.

The Sword of Shannara sold about 125,000 copies in its first year in print,[41] and this success provided a major boost to the fantasy genre.[42] Louise J. Winters writes that “until Shannara, no fantasy writer except J. R. R. Tolkien had made such an impression on the general public.”[43]

Critic David Pringle said that Brooks “demonstrated in 1977 that the commercial success of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings had not been a fluke, and that fantasy really did have the potential to become a mass-market genre”.[44]

[…]The Sword of Shannara ushered in “the era of the big commercial fantasy”[45] and helped make epic fantasy the leading fantasy subgenre.[45] The Sword of Shannara and its sequels helped inspire later versions of Dungeons and Dragons.[46]

Author Gene Wolfe defended Brooks’ derivation of material from Tolkien in a 2001 Interzone essay: “Terry Brooks has often been disparaged for imitating Tolkien, particularly by those reviewers who find his books inferior to Tolkien’s own. I can say only that I wish there were more imitators—we need them—and that all imitations of so great an original must necessarily be inferior.”[37]

Dune author Frank Herbert also defended Brooks:[38] “Brooks demonstrates that it doesn’t matter where you get the idea; what matters is that you tell a rousing story.”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone become a Brooks. But I think creators can get hung up on being super original. If originality is the final goal, then sure — but if you’re looking to entertain, to make something meaningful, impactful — you can do that without making the most original work ever.

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I would mind. I might want to reuse it in next five years elsewhere, has happened before. (Actually is happening right now.)

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I’m curious if you could expand on your situation, since I think it could offer some valuable insight. But if you are not comfortable with expanding on it, then I understand!

Response to @LiliArch :
I mean, you had just shared you had a specific story you wanted to reuse right? That you were having issues with because someone else had taken some form of it? Did I misinterpret what you had said?

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