History buffs out there may recognise the quote I’ve adapted for the title of this post: Admiral Nelson is said to have uttered it at the battle of Copenhagen when he put the telescope to his missing eye and said he could, ‘see no ships’. What a witty man he must have been.
He was also a very eloquent man and one who spoke many a phrase worth stealing for my book. In fact, I have already nicked some additional quotes of his and adapted them for my own use…
…and herein lies my conundrum:
If I use Nelson’s quotes in my story without referencing him, therefore passing his wisdom off as my own, is that plagiarism? And more importantly; could somebody have me up on it?
My story is loosely based on the Royal Navy during Nelson’s time and my hero is named Horatio – hence the reason I’m trying to be clever by quietly inserting the odd ‘Nelsonism’ here and there into the text. What I don’t want to do, however, is fall-foul of some obscure literary law that says I can’t do this.
Were I to copy, say, one of his letters to Lady Hamilton and then pass that off as my own writing then, yes of course, that’s wrong. But I’ve not done that. What I’ve done is simply copy some of his words and adapt them to my story, but without adding ‘Nelson once said…’ or (Nelson, H. 1798. Battle of the Nile. p32). I find that inserting references can kinda kill the pace of a story, don’t you?
Here are a few examples of what I’ve been doing; see what you think:
Spaceborne naval tactics, much like in Nelson’s day, dictated that no captain could do very wrong if he placed his ship alongside that of the enemy and then pummelled him into submission.
“But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” said Horatio. “None of us know how we’ll react to our first experience under fire. Nobody holds it against you. Even the bravest man feels an anxiety as he enters battle… but he dreads disgrace yet more.” Horatio crouched down to look him in the eye. “You are not a disgrace. You are my first lieutenant, Matthew, and I need you by my side.”
“Even the bravest man feels an anxiety as he enters the battle, circa praecordia, but he dreads disgrace yet more.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve much to fear from a long-dead, skinny, five-foot-four, one-armed, one-eyed sailor; but in this age of copyright infringement and ludicrous litigation, I could do without some busy-body going to the law and consequently then being ordered to change my story for legal reasons (I’ve heard of stranger tales concerning breach of copyright).
I love quirky little things like this in books, those ones that only a few people ever notice, and I’d like to do more of it in my own story. But not if it can get me into trouble.
So what do you think? Am I concerned over nothing? Should I keep throwing the quotes in there until I get caught? Will enough people even read my book for me to ever get caught?
Thanks for reading…