Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Defining Integrity

Jessica Faust got me thinking this week with this post about product placement in the e-books, and as always happens, my brain started skipping all over, taking various tangents, so I thought maybe we'd explore together what exactly author integrity was. There are easy lines and hard lines and a lot of gray area in between... ready for a trip?!

The EASY Line

No plagiarism, ne? Easy peasy line. Never take credit for anybody else's stuff. And it's always great to have your own totally original book... every thought from your own brain. Never wrong, right?

But what is your opinion on ghost writers? Is that ever okay? Do you think less of the WRITER of those, or only the person taking credit when someone else wrote it? What about when the ghost writer gets credit... a nice 'with' to go after the name of the supposed author. Then there are the collaborative efforts with a big 'James Patterson' and a little 'peon writer'. Or the gigs like I've got going, where an editor comes up with a broad brushed plan and the writer then writes the book.

And what about people who write gossip about other peoples' lives? Is that okay? Only if they get permission? If it's a public figure? If the person is REALLY obnoxious? If you do it in SECRET and you call it FICTION?

What About the Ideas?

It would be SO SO wrong to sit in a coffee shop and overhear a writer telling her BFF about her great new idea and then go write that book. Even if you felt sure the writer was LOUSY and couldn't execute it, it is STILL wrong to steal the idea.

But there are supposedly only SEVEN plots! So how the heck are we SUPPOSED to have original ideas? I saw a parallel recently (wish I could remember who... one of my blog buddies) of Star Wars and Eragon... It was BRILLIANT how parallel the two stories ran, yet I'd never noticed until it was laid out for me. They don't FEEL the same. They don't SEEM the same. I'm willing to bet it wasn't intentional on Paolini's part.

We read. We watch. We talk. And over time the stories become a part of us. It would hardly be fair to disallow anything that had some prior iterations. If Romeo and Juliet disallowed West Side Story and Grease... sad. Though we also wouldn't have Twilight, so that's something *shifty* I think that is one of the functions of the publishing industry... filtering out the 'not fresh enough' new versions of old stuff from the new enough twists.

How Do You Spell SELL-OUT?

This gets into that whole product placement discussion... it is of course widespread to include the name of a product in books. Characters drink Coca-cola, or chew Excedrin, or eat Krispy Kremes. It is what real people do. It would be an unrealistic expectation to leave all of that out. But to put them in on purpose in order to get paid by the manufacturer? How would that work? Would the manufacturer request it from certain authors? Or would authors write in products left and write hoping for an endorsement after the fact? When there is product placement on television or movies, then the manufacture often gets approval rights, or it has to be removed. Does the book industry want to enter that quagmire?

What about special requests? Do you incorporate a story twist or a character because somebody wants you to?

So Because I Can't Help Myself

My opinion on the matter is that as long as we are learning and growing, then what we write is good for us. YES, there are times to consider pen names and such, if you have 'higher aspirations'... The fan fiction I started with uses someone elses' characters... hit a couple plot points... and developed and grew. I am going to watch the product thing. It depends on how obtrusive it is... a hyperlink might be okay, not a flashy ad. My opinions aren't quite as lenient for the side USING ghost writers... I can live with it if there is credit, but I don't think I quite approve.  But from the WRITER'S end... we do what we need to to grow, and if we can find a route to get paid in the process, I'm okay with that.  I also think we should give credit where conscious decisions were made to use ideas from here or there--ESPECIALLY from any living author's work or living person's suggestion.  It's just the right thing to do.

So what are your opinions? What are the lines you won't cross? Which ones are okay?


Ted Cross said...

I actually disagree with some of this on a philosophical level. It is only because of money that we now look at everything having to be completely original. This wasn't how humanity worked for most of our history. Rather, we spread stories around by word of mouth, and that's what people loved -- taking stories from others and either retelling them or giving them our own embellishments.

I don't believe that money should be a driving force that changes our fundamental thinking on such things (even though it plainly is). I think we should be allowed to love what we love and go with it.

Your example in the cafe doesn't bother me the way it does you, because I know for a fact that the two stories written about ostensibly the same thing would come out completely different. I don't have a problem with that.

I also have no problem with the idea of someone loving a type of created world, such as the style of world built up first by Tolkien and later by Dungeons and Dragons, and writing new stories within that style of world. In fact I think it provides many readers exactly the type of comfort that we once took from retelling other peoples' tales around tribal fires.

Talli Roland said...

I don't have a problem with ghost writers -- mainly because they know what they're signing up for and everything is clear and spelled out. If all the cards are on the table, then it's not an issue. It's where the lines get a bit blurry that problems might occur - the whole thing about 'whose idea is it really'.

Hart Johnson said...

Ted--I feel like where some classical worlds are concerned, you are absolutely right. Your LotR example and D&D--but also the Greek mythology, or Norse legends... there is a ton of stuff that has been with us for long enough that I feel like it is completely usable. But what about Paolini's world where Eragon is? Would THAT be fair game? I mean I know some of his 'peoples' are older, but some of it is very much his own. Or the world Terry Goodkind created for his Sword of Truth series... I feel like living authors have some more rights to their intellectual property.

Talli--I feel the ghost writers themselves are getting a fair enough deal, but what about the PUBLIC? Do they deserve to know? And the 'author'--do they deserve the credit? I just like a transparent system, but I do think this is one of those hazy things where different people will feel differently.

Cruella Collett said...

Meh - blogger ate my comment (can I still blame Yuku?)... Basically, I agree with you on ghostwriters and pen names, and I agree with you on older versus newer stuff when it comes to rights. At the very least I'd say you'd have to CREDIT Paolini if you used his world/characters in a published work (and in today's world also probably pay him). I don't think the same should apply to Shakespeare - not just because he is not still alive, but because his stories are so familiar that the "new version with a twist" will be apparent to most readers.

Ted Cross said...

I think if something is completely invented by a specific author then it should be up to that author during his or her life as to whether anyone else should be able to use their stuff. I disagree with the current system that forbids people from using it even after the author has died. I think the market itself would take care of everything fine, i.e. if I wrote a bad book in Middle Earth, no decent publishing house is going to publish it, but if I wrote an amazing one, what is wrong with that? I and many others would absolutely love to read more great stories set in Middle Earth.

Jessica Bell said...

Firstly, I think everything has been done to death in this world and there is no longer anything such as 'completely original'. That being said, though, I still couldn't take someone's idea and rework it. It just wouldn't feel right.

But even my 'fresh' ideas, aren't really that fresh, are they? There would certainly be some aspects that have been done before - even without me knowing it. Which, as of late, I can proove - I'm not a happy chappy.

I read a book the other day called, 'I don't know how she does it'. I think you did too, huh? I recall something on Goodreads ... anyway, there were some really clever bits, I laughed, I though 'god that was clever!', AND there were some things that I had talked about in almost exactly the same way in a novel I started writing FOUR years ago (which I've revised rigorously and trying to publish), without having even HEARD of this book. My god I was PISSED! P I S S E D

Anyhoo, my point is. It's all been done. And we are just redoing everything, over and over! And OVER!

Are you a writer? Then you MUST enter this CONTEST!

Hart Johnson said...

Mari-I think it is ALWAYS fair to blame Yuku, but Blogger really deserves some wrath from time to time, too. I can't even BELIEVE the Potterverse didn't occur to me... somebody tries to use Hogwarts, or Hogsmeade, or Diagon Alley... yeah... we know where THAT came from!

Ted-maybe my Potter example pulls out NEW NEW versus the new that is a twist on older. I agree that Publishing will sort out a lot of it, and elves and dwarves and such are older ideas. Rowlings stuff REALLY is totally fresh and originated WITH HER and I feel like her heirs, for some certain number of decades anyway, deserve some benefit if somebody is making money using those ideas.

Jessica-I DID read that (ages ago--my first maternity leave it got passed to me by my BFF and I had forgotten until I saw you just finished it) and I felt like what was so fabulous about it wasn't any particular EVENT (none of that seems all that proprietary) it was her VOICE--she was really funny in the way she framed it. Though it was 15 years ago, so I may be forgetting something.

I think when you are working real world, the ownership thing with ideas sort of goes out the window. Stuff HAPPENS to people. As long as it isn't the same SERIES of things, or the same exact reaction to the same thing you are okay.

Dawn Ius said...

Great post. I've thought about this a lot. I once had a beta reader accuse me of shamelessly plugging Diet Coke in hopes of a promo deal but honestly, the character drinks it and I'm a fan of being specific so I didn't change it.

Old Kitty said...

Gosh!!! What a trip!! :-)

Ghost writers - it's not right ethically but publishing is a business and if there's money to be made by using a Naomi Campbell's name to sell and to make a profit then it's gonna happen and it'll not end, not where business and money are concerned. I only hope the ghost writers are paid handsomely, are able to pursue their own writing ambitions are able to feed their families!

And of course the essence of plots are regurgitated over again - I quess it's how the plots are narrated and the skill of the narration that's the thing. So Romeo and Juliet remade into 1960's gang warfare works because the characters are believable, the plot is action packed and the universal truths of love, hate, redemption, deception, humanity etc prevail.


Take care

Steel Magnolia said...

Just be true to yourself. And be very careful. Integrity, once lost, is a bit like virginity. One never gets it back. Just be sure that the lines we cross, whatever they are, are to push the art of the story forward. Cheers!

RosieC said...

All good points. I'm very anti-product placement unless the writer makes fun of itself in the process (see Exhibit B, "Arrested Development" episode 2.13 "Motherboy XXX").

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine who has a fascinating life story already at the age of 25, and I offered to help him write a memoir. I know he would give me credit somewhere in there if it did happen, but I wouldn't mind being a ghost writer for him. Honestly, it's because of the story and because he's my friend. But as a general practice for hire without official recognition, I would have to say I'm against it.

Hart Johnson said...

Dawn, I think it is only realistic for some characters and people who insist on a certain soda flavor exist in real life (Diet Coke drinkers are a different sort than Diet Pepsi drinkers...says the diet Coke drinker)

Jenny-that is exactly it... Naomi Campbell probably can't write, but people want the story, so SOMEBODY will write it. Ghost writers DO get paid pretty well, largely because the books they write tend to SELL well and even a smaller percentage gets big when multiplied by a lot.

SM--LIKE the virginity comparison. I think it's apt. We all definitely need to examine what is right FOR US and stick with that line... I would also avoid any slippery slopes... it is WATCHING for those that gets difficult.

Rosie-I don't do product placement AS product placement, but, for instance... I have a character who is a bit of a beer snob, and naming the local micro is a way to get that across with authenticity. I guess I just have my characters consuming what I think they would consume. As for helping with memoires of the interesting life of non-writers--to me that is cool. Those are often double credited.

LTM said...

amazing that you wrote about integrity... I was just thinking about that yesterday but in a completely different context (I was thinking about my kids starting school...)

As far as plagerism and stealing others' ideas--Hello? Do we even need to discuss how wrong this is?

But I do think it's possible to have an idea grow out of a story overheard or a conversation or meeting someone. Wherever your/my creative mind takes that one little spark I think would always wind up being original...

And then there are elements I guess we all fall back on--the boy artist, the sailor, the dark-haired bad boy w/a heart of gold... wait. Or was that a hooker?

As for product placement--does that really happen??? :D good stuff, T~

M.J. Nicholls said...

Product placement is disgraceful. I was thinking about this in McDonald's the other day, drinking a 7-Up from my Timberland boots in a M&S summer sports vest. Looking at my Timex. Thinking about Nike.

I don't understand ghostwriters. Who on earth would spend months on a work of beauty and let someone else take the credit? Do these people have a soul, Tart? I mean, do they??

By the way, where can I buy your tarts? Plug plug.

Hart Johnson said...

Leigh-definitely a hooker. You lost me at integrity and your kids starting school though. Is school a threat to their integrity? Is sending them a threat to YOUR intregrity as they will destroy their teachers? Definitely though, on the spark started thing. I think so often ideas take off and reach somewhere only peripherally related, but it's POSSIBLE someone ELSE could take the SAME idea and get to a very similar place... that is when you see the book fresh out that has YOUR idea that is in the book you are writing and say GRRRRRRRR!

Mark-everyone knows McDonald's carries Sprite, not 7-Up. *cough* But you look good! Especially since there are no pants involved. You know how I feel about pants.

I think the ghost writers make a buttload of money. As to the soul, I have no clue. Buttload of money is worth a lot of soul.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I did add a prologue when asked by my publisher, but it made the book stronger.

lisahgolden said...

I'm wishy-washy on ghost-writing. I see the need for writers to do it and be paid, but I feel judgmental toward people who want to "write" a book without writing it.

Product placement? I wouldn't want to do it. I would be afraid of shutting out other options and I'm all about options.

Hart Johnson said...

Alex, I think what your PUBLISHER asks for goes without saying unless it really changes the nature of the book. Agent stuff even should be USUALLY taken.

Lisa-that is sort of me... okay for the writER, not for the one who gets credit.

*giggles on options*

Cheeseboy said...

I do hope that the book industry never does product placement. I take that back... what if - when you reach a certain page in the book, a free tear out coupon pops out for a free McRibb or something. That would be awesome and it would promote reading more.

angelarene said...

Good food for thought. I feel bad for ghost writers and feel like we shouldn't call the person who came up with the concept an author...cause an author entails writing...right? Anytime before I start a manuscript I always make sure there's really nothing like it currently on the market, mainly because of my need to be original. I recently found out a PB that I had sent to a slew of publishers about 2 years ago was also a concept done by an author/illustrator that was one of the top 5 PB at this year's past BEA. Now mind you I had gotten a revision request from the uber editor Cheryl Klein at Arthur Levine but I could never really come up with what I thought was a stellar ending so I dropped the ball so to speak and am only angry at myself for not pursuing that further.( And you all have permission to blog slap me the next time you see me, I mean who ignores a revision request from Cheryl Klein?) :) But ideas are really a dime a dozen and each writer can always spin a yarn in such a completely different manner...I mean look at all the Twilight knockoffs...i also have a Historical PB about a plantation slave that's based on an old 1800's narrative and I can honestly say if I got that published, I would def feel the need to start a fund of some sort for his ancestors or perhaps a college fund in his name because it's his heartwarming story and it wouldn't feel right to me to not offer something back. But I guess it depends on the writer's integrity and ethics...Great post Hart!

Hart Johnson said...

*giggles* Cheeseboy, you crack me up. Do they still MAKE McRib? I worked for an Agency repping a local McDonald's co-op the first time they tested that. *rolls eyes*

Lola- *blog slaps* Don't drop the ball on Cheryl Klein, you ninny! Say... there was a Sheryl Klein in my sorority... a coincidence? I think NOT! BUWAHAHAHAHAHAAHA! *cough* But seriously--I would be like you--a story of somebody else's, even if I wrote it, I would feel obliged to share any big success.

Jan Morrison said...

I was talking to a friend tonight on the telephone. He was totally pissed which was hilarious only because I don't live with him. He and I have written many plays together. I adore him but he was trying to tell me this plot of a play he wants us to write that has already been done. I laughed so hard at him and then said - 'I know, let's write a play about a musical on Broadway where the lead woman can't sing and her 'voice' is a dear person and we'll have a good dancer in it and we'll call it 'singing in the rain' and he hung up on me. ha ha ha.

Arlee Bird said...

Like Ted, I think overhearing a skeletal outline of a story and expanding it into one's own would result in a different work for each writer that used that idea. There have been many similar stories written that in essence are quite different. It's not so much the story as the way it's told and the style of the author.


Tossing It Out