Many years ago before the end of time when chocolate was considered part of the food pyramid, I took a creative writing class at the local community college where the teacher was a hottie and I was struggling my way through fiction writing during my young poetess stage.
One night before class I was at a small hole in the wall Asian restaurant having dinner and the hottie teacher came in. He asked if he could join me, I died inside and said yes and then we talked about writing.
At the time I wanted to write literary fiction but I remember our conversation circled to Harlequin romances. Hottie McHottie's advice to me at the time was to copy a Harlequin word for word to learn the structure of the writing. Then do it again but replace characters and plot elements. Then one last time and change it all to your own story.
The suggestion seemed strange and silly and the only reason I remembered it was because he had longish black hair (which I have a HUGE soft spot for) and dark eyes and visible chest hair. Oh yum.
But remember it, I did. And now I get it. Although the copying word for word part is a bit ridiculous, the copying part is not. Stealing is wrong. However we're not talking about stealing. We're talking about What Would Sarah Addison Allen Do?
After a difficult writing spell (I was working on a story that was easy to write but had plot holes and discrepancies so large the only thing to do was toss it) I'm finally writing again. The story I'm working on is a gentle, small town story of 2 women, 2 men, a slight hint of magic and redone kitchens and talking dogs.
Okay, no talking dogs.
The story is, in other words, very much my own version of Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. If you haven't read Garden Spells, I'm here to tell you that you should. It's a beautifully written book about two sisters, a small town, magic and love. Oh yeah, I know. I admit it too: I'm ripping off mightily but with my own story.
So in writing a derivative book, I ask myself "What would Sarah Addison Allen do?" It's a wonderful way to write. When I'm unsure I imagine I was reading a book by a favorite author and I think "This is where Sarah would..." and I know what to write.
I'm willing to bet that there's enough difference between the stories, the humor and the plots that nobody will read my story and say, "Aha, there is a derivative work of that wonderful novel Garden Spells written by Sarah Addison Allen who is not only one of the most talented authors alive but also damned attractive."
In middle earth, many hobbits find me attractive also.
Again, this is NOT in any way a post saying plagiarism is the way to go. This is understanding that in writing something similar or dirivative of someone else's work (or in the case of Harlequin, following their guidelines for one of their lines) then asking yourself, what would (fill in the blank) do?
One day someone might be asking that about your writing.