The Plagiarism Plague

Written by A Guest Author

By Brian Douglas

I was thrilled when I got the call. A local writer’s group, after receiving a draft of a short story I’d written, extended an invitation for me to join their circle. I showed up at the appropriate time and place and was warmly welcomed.

As time went on, I came to value this group as an integral part of my growth as a budding new writer. Their critiques of my submissions were kind and often more gracious than they probably deserved. In turn, I did my best to critique the work of the others as honestly and fairly as I could.

There was one writer in our group who wrote exclusively in the genre of flash fiction. Jenny was brilliant. Her ability to write a complete story in less than five-hundred words astounded us all. Often hilariously funny, at times shockingly insightful, and always intelligently poignant. I think I can safely say that we were all impressed, and a bit threatened by her writing prowess. 

Our group meets once a month. The deadline for submissions is one week before our upcoming meeting. I received via email, our usual method of exchanging our submissions, another outstanding flash fiction piece from Jenny. It was short. 203 words, to be exact. As always, I was very impressed. Although there were a few lines that somehow seemed familiar. Especially her masterful final paragraph: “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

Out of curiosity, I cut and pasted the sentence into my browser and hit ‘enter’. For a moment I was in denial. Denial eventually subsided into disappointment, which soon became sadness and ultimately solidified into that feeling of being completely duped. I entered another sentence, then another. Of the 203 words in Jenny’s flash fiction story, 106 were not her words at all. The profound last sentence belongs to the Dali Lama. The other authors were lesser known, but those lines were also not written by Jenny.

I opened my writer’s group file and retrieved previous submissions from Jenny. I cut and pasted the most breathtaking sentences of Jenny’s submissions and subjected them to the Google gods. Almost every story had been plagiarized to one degree or another.

The following Wednesday I arrived at our writer’s group and offered little in the way of feedback on the piece Jenny had submitted. I listened as the six other members verbalized their praise and admiration for her piece. One of our group shared of a conversation she’d had with a friend earlier that day, which was difficult. She said, “Jenny, I wish I could think the way you write. That last sentence about being on different roads not meaning I’ve gotten lost. Those were the exact words I needed for my friend. You are a genius.” Jenny bowed her head in a guise of humility and simply responded, “Thank you.” 

Perhaps I should have confronted her there and then, but I have always believed that if you are going to confront someone about an issue that will bring much shame upon them, it should never be in front of a group. I’m also terrified of confrontation. So, perhaps that’s the real reason I chose what I believed was the higher road. When I returned home that evening, I spent many hours formulating an email to Jenny. I allowed it to sit and percolate for a few days before hitting ‘send’. It addressed what I had discovered and specifically the fact that plagiarism is the blasphemy of the writing world. I offered to meet with her to discuss the issue and offered my support should she come clean to the rest of our writer’s group as well as the many magazines she had submitted her work to.

The reply I got back was scathing. She was infuriated that I would accuse her of such a thing. “Everything I have ever written is my own work. I would never do what you have accused me of doing.” she wrote. She turned the table and threatened me, then pleaded with me, then her anger raged again. All the eloquence of her usual writing was absent. As was she the next time our group met. I have not seen her again. She simply disappeared from our local writing community.

The writing world is small. It’s okay to make mistakes. We often learn best that way. But there are some things which are sacred. As writers all we have is our word, or words, as the case may be. When the reader cannot believe the things we write, we have nothing.

I feel for the “Jenny’s” in the writing community; those who have some degree of talent but have such poor self-worth that they are willing to jeopardize everything for the praise of a few. Plagiarism has never been easier. Nor has it ever been easier to detect. Beware. Be honest. Be yourself. 


Bio: Brian Douglas is a writer from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He holds a Master’s degree with a double major in clinical counselling and pastoral leadership. He is currently working on his third novel, ‘Torrent’, a murder-mystery which is a break from his usual genre of psychological fiction. Brian is a member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Authors Association.

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