Welcome to my feature, Writing & Publishing Tips. Here, writers and readers alike can learn firsthand knowledge about writing and publishing from various authors (and occasionally me). I hope you enjoy, and never hesitate to ask questions.
Today we have Kathy Bryson, author of Restless Spirits. She is going to give us the 411 on how to include great world building in your book without be sued over copyrights infringements and other things. I must admit, I always wondered about what I could include in my books without getting in trouble. It’s a slippery slop sometimes.
World Building Without Getting Sued
By Kathy Bryson
Writing urban fantasy is particularly challenging because we’re comparing the world as it is with the world we’re creating. The fun part where you show the shock and dismay as magical beings encounter things like computers and TV, but the hard part is referring to those items correctly! The challenge becomes even more complicated when you refer to language, whether from movies, music, or other books, instead of things.
Here are some of the guidelines I learned exploring fairies living in the modern-day Midwest:
1) Naming items – Is it necessary to be brand specific or can you describe the thing you’re discussing? Do you have to say “Rolex” to show the hero is wealthy or will “he adjusted his expensive European watch” convey the same impression? What you can’t do is say anything disparaging about a specific product. Those issues you have to take up with Customer Service.
2) Using proper names – Kleenex is a brand. Tissues are what you use to wipe your nose. The same distinction is important for Xeroxes vs. photocopies, Band-Aid vs. bandage, and Coke vs. soda pop among others. Brand names get capitals and refer to specific manufacturers. Be particularly careful of names that are becoming generic terms, such as “I googled it” instead of “I looked it up in a search engine.”
3) Using common catchphrases – “Fools rush in” may be heard widely when discussing love, but is that the best way to describe your character’s reaction or someone’s perception? It’s tempting to use the language we hear around us, but you’re assuming that your reader will know what you’re referring to. What was a popular song or show 20 years ago may be completely unknown today while an older reader may not know the latest pop tune.
4) Avoiding copyright infringement – “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” was first written by Alexander Pope in his poem An Essay on Criticism in 1709. You can say that phrase without fear of violating copyright, but you can’t use “Wise men say, only fools rush in” without permission from Sony BMG, the current owner of Elvis’ songs. The 75-years-after-death guideline on copyrights may be superseded by contracts entered into during the artist’s lifetime, so always check!
5) Getting the quote right – Even if you don’t need permission, it’s common courtesy to attribute your references. It also prevents confusion over what you’re talking about. While researching fairies, Shakespeare’s plays kept cropping, so one character became a teacher who might reasonably quote him. However, I couldn’t just throw quotes in anywhere. The quotes had to fit both my story AND Shakespeare’s. You can’t refer to Romeo and Juliet as a happy love story, for example; people will complain.
Ultimately, to create a story where two worlds interact or are juxtaposed means knowing both of them in detail. You can make up the supernatural to some extent, but don’t skimp on researching the world you already know and live in!
Author BioKathy Bryson knew she wanted to be a writer when she finished reading through her elementary school and local children’s libraries. She spent 20 years honing her writing skills on marketing brochures, websites, and several unfinished manuscripts before going into teaching and finishing a book with all the stuff she enjoys most – from coffee to love to Shakespeare! Kathy lives in Florida where she caters to the whims of two spoiled cats and wonders what possessed her to put in 75 feet of flowerbeds.
Her Latest Book, Restless Spirits –
Marilee Harper is desperate to find another job after she accidentally set fire to the home of the richest woman in town. Converting an old hospital into a B&B seems like a golden opportunity. But fixtures turn themselves off and on, and old baseballs fly without help. Stressed and aggravated, Marilee wants nothing more than to redeem herself, even if it means hands off her sympathetic boss!
John Smith has every confidence in the bossy, strong woman he hired. She handled difficult customers at the bank and now she’s handling electricity and plumbing and whatever unseen force keeps throwing baseballs. Who can blame him if he starts to admire the woman in more than strictly professional terms? But when the angry, treacherous King of the Fairies shows up, can Marilee become his champion? Goodreads | Amazon