Help me identify the line between homage and plagarism, please

A friend of mine was decrribing a scene he was writing in a screenplay he was working on. A hunter character is stalking a creature in the woods. It’s dark, tense but the hunter is closing in on his prey. Then the hunter senses something turns and there is another creature right there. The hunter says “clever” and then gets eaten.

Now if the creature was a dinosaur one would say “Dude, you’re friends with Steven Speilberg? Give him a smack in the head for that whole ET gun/Walkie-Talkie thing.” But no, my friend it writing a screenplay about werewolves and is justifying this scene as Homage. I think he’s just stealing an idea so he doesn’t have to bother to think up anything original. I mean at least change up the dialog a bit. Have some dignity.

So am I being harsh here? I know there’s not a whole lot of new left in the narrative arts. Most everything has been done by somebody, but if you can’t present something old with a new perspective, why bother.

Any thoughts?

I once saw a painting of a hunter on horseback aiming his rifle at an elk in the distance. The hunter was completely oblivious to the mountain lion that was stalking him and his horse. I saw this painting many years before Jurassic Park was released. The concept is hardly original, so no, I don’t think it’s straight up plagiarism. Keep in mind that the standards of plagiarism in a work of fiction aren’t the same as the standards in an academic paper.


Plagarism, almost by definition, has to be longer than one word.

I’d call this an hommage; otherwise, every horror movie scene where a person opens a door, finds nothing there, and lets out a sign of relief before being surprise-attacked would be illegal.

I would also call it a bad hommage, becvause the original scene is not really that clever (it’s alluded early on in the film that V.raptors trapped their prey in this way), and the total film itself isn’t really hommage-worthy (parody-worthy, OK; if the hunter in your friend’s story said something like “Hey, you’re not a dinosaur!” before getting eaten, that would be something).

Anytime you have the reader saying “Oh, I see where this is going”, you’ve failed. A too-obvious “homage” (or “ripoff”) of something in recent pop-culture memory is a big risk. Unless you have the comical twist ending as CJJ described (or as the ZAZ guys are fond of in their sight-gag movies), I’d be very careful.