Plagiarism Lessons

I love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. He wrote a true classic, Slaughterhouse-Five. That book is up there with All Quiet on the Western Front as an antiwar novel of the 20th century. It’s better than A Farewell to Arms. I’ve read Slaughterhouse-Five twice in the last year.

I want to plagiarize Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I’m writing a war book of my own, and I’m trying to get the beginning right. One thing about Slaughterhouse-Five, I believe, is that Vonnegut came in and wrote the stunningly personal and sincere Chapter One after he’d written the (more fanciful) rest of the book. Myself, I’ve written a complete book but now I’m trying to get the opening tone right, and I thought, Fuckin-a, let’s just plagiarize Vonnegut’s line at the beginning. That’s the mood I want. When my book is done, I can always go back and change that line, lest I get accused of plagiarism. So I wrote: “Almost everything here is true.”

Later I went over to the couch to look at Vonnegut’s book again. It starts, “All this happened, more or less.”

It’s almost impossible to copy someone’s language precisely even if you’re trying. The kind of borrowings Kaavya Vishnawathan says she made unconsciously in her book don’t come from the unconscious. They come from laying a book next to the computer.

(And yes, if and when my book’s published, I’ll acknowledge a lot of sources, including Vonnegut. Steal well, and softly.)

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