Mar 312012

This guest post is by Dawn Walnoha of Brandsplat.

In all writing, blogging being no exception, there is a fine line between borrowing ideas and plagiarizing content. Since the issue is not clearly defined the same way everywhere, it is open to interpretation. And that means the line is somewhere in a gray area between the black and white of honest content and dishonest theft.

One area that has been a perennial gray zone is that of borrowing another writer’s structure or approach to their writing style, while not borrowing their content. This is absolutely, in no way shape or form, plagiarizing. But because of the nature of ideas and how they originate and propagate through society as memes, there are people who take this kind of structural borrowing as a theft of ideas.

So how does one evaluate the matter to be sure they’re simply using a reasonable approach, rather than stealing from another writer?

Comparing content

Let’s take a look at two very popular television series, two of my personal favorites in fact: ABC’s Castle and Fox’s Bones.

Castle, which first aired as a mid-season replacement in 2009, features a male and female partnership duo heading up an ensemble style cast of quirky police detectives. Rick Castle, an author who is tagging along on police investigations in order to do research for his books, often clashes with the experienced police detective Kate Beckett. Castle lacks any kind of police training and can’t protect himself like a cop could, but their personality clashes hide a growing and intensifying attraction to one another.

Compare that to Bones, which first aired in 2005. Temperence Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth head up an ensemble cast of quirky characters. Brennan (who is an author) is working with the experienced FBI field agent Booth.  Booth often clashes with her over decorum in the field because she wants to get close to the action but lacks the training of an experienced officer. However, their clashes hide a growing and intensifying… you can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.

On the surface, these two shows look very much alike. Just looking at the facts as presented, you would probably excuse someone for making the initial assumption that Castle ripped Bones off. But looking a bit more in depth, you’ll see that it is not the case.

Bones is a show focused on forensic anthropology based out of a lab in the “Jeffersonian” institute (a Smithsonian

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