Monday, April 24, 2006

Plagiarism Or Subconscious Imitation?

From Sunday's Harvard Crimson:
A recently-published novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, contains several passages that are strikingly similar to two books by Megan F. McCafferty—the 2001 novel Sloppy Firsts and the 2003 novel Second Helpings.
The article provides a comparison of passages that appear to have been plagiarized by Viswanathan from McCafferty's books. Although the Crimson's case is compelling, I found myself wondering how to avoid unplanned repetition of another author's work, especially if you read favorite books many, many times. In The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, for example, I named a character Elizabeth Grayson, and it wasn't until I reached for L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Windy Poplars recently that I realized I'd accidentally pilfered the name from one of my favorite authors. Also, some of the imitation in Viswanathan's book may be due to the generic "YASpeak" used by popular authors of teen chick lit. Well, we'll see how this particular publishing drama plays out ...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a writer myself, I have found it is hard to come up with completely original names, at least English ones. Especially, when you realize that the wacky names today's kids get didn't exist a few decades ago. It's not on the same level IMO with what this author did.

Though in "Opal Mehta" one reviewer suggested she took the name "Dean Anderson" from some old television program, which is escaping me at the moment.

Mitali Perkins said...

Nonetheless, I'd be curious to know how many times Viswanathan read McCafferty's books, and how high she ranked them on her list of favorites.

Susan said...

Mitali, see MediaBistro's GalleyCat today. From an article there, I gather that the young author also worked with 17th Street Productions, the book packager, in addition to the publisher. 17th Street helped the author expand her original manuscript...

Mitali Perkins said...

Thanks, Susan. Here's the link to the packager, 17th Street Productions, but they're obviously getting a lot of hits because my browser isn't loading the site. From the Boston Globe:

...The agent steered Viswanathan toward a company that helps young writers package book ideas; editors there helped her conceptualize the novel.

"There was more shaping to this book than we usually do," Asya Muchnick, Viswanathan's editor, told the Globe in the February interview.

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