What do you say? Can you legally beg, borrow, or steal a line or two from another writer as long as it's not enough to put you in Dutch with the Copyright Cops?
Beg or borrow? Not sure those are legally definable words. Steal? Ouch. We don't want to go there. But the truth is you can use some of another writer's material as long as you attribute that material to the original author. "Some," here, is the operative word. Keep the usage to a minimum, as in this example in quotation marks:
I can't say it any better: 'Donita was a flake, and she knew it from the day she was born,' according to author Pete Markowitz wrtiting in his book, Dark Day at Diablo.
That's one way to handle a short excerpt from another author's work. If it's a little longer, you might grant the quoted material its own paragraph to set it apart further, as in this example:
As author Markie Mark said in his article, "Going My Way," in the June, 1972, issue of Motorist Magazine:
QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL.
Putting the quoted material in italics and indenting it in a block sets it apart from your original writing even further and prevents the reader from mistaking it for your own material.
For longer quoted sections, still, you should use a formal footnote or endnote, relying upon one of the more commonly used styles (Chicago, ABA, etc.) and listing the original author, where and when the quoted material was originally published or recorded, the name of the publication or show, the date and issue number of the publication or taping if applicable, and any other pertinent information that might help identify the original author and prevent any potential need for legal action.
Finally, in the end, hope for the best because, even doing one of the above, if an author doesn't want you using his or her material in your work for whatever reason, you may have to "take it down" or "unpublish it" somehow or risk legal action. Remember: Anyone can sue anyone else for virtually anything. Whether or not the plaintiff will prevail is another matter that only a court can decide.
My own rule of thumb is to get the author's permission if possible and, if not, rewrite longer passages into your own paraphrased words and cite shorter quoted sections appropriately.
See? No lawsuits. And I've been writing both fiction and nonfiction for longer than most people have been alive.
Or so it seems.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.