Some Copyright Basics

As authors, we need to become familiar with the basics of copyright and copyright law. In this blog, I share a few things regarding it, but I encourage authors to study and research it for themselves as well.

Why Register A Copyright?

The Law: the moment a work is in fixed form, it is copyrighted under the law. So, why register a copyright with the copyright office? Here are two reasons.

  • It provides proof in a court of law that you are the owner in case someone infringes on your copyright. The Copyright Office provides a Certificate of Registration and a Registration Number indicating the effective date of registration for each copyrighted work.
  • You cannot file a lawsuit for infringement in federal court if your work isn’t registered. Without registration, it’s more difficult to prove ownership. The law gives authors three months to register after publication, or else they must be registered before the first infringement occurs.
  • Your work will be listed in the Library of Congress.

For details on how to register your copyright, download Circular 2, “Copyright Registration.” See links at end of this blog.

Mandatory Deposit: It’s the Law

Although authors don’t have to register their work with the copyright office, the law requires them to deposit a required number of copies of their work with the office. If an author registers his/her work, they will meet this requirement because depositing their published work is part of the registration process.

For more information, download Circular 7D, “Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonograph Records for the Library of Congress.” See links at end of this blog.

Infringement & Plagiarism


Ideas cannot be copyrighted. After all, how many Civil War novels are out there? How many historical romances with similar plots? No plot is truly original but the story’s expression, the way the author writes it, must be the author’s original work.

For example, if I create a character, say an army scout just like Hondo Lane in Louis L’Amour’s novel Hondo, I’ve infringed on his copyright. I can write a Western using an army scout as the main character, but my scout must be unique to me— how I depict/express him.


Plagiarism is “literary theft.” It’s presenting someone else’s work as your own.

What Are Some Plagiarisms?

  • Copying another author’s work word-for-word and using it as your own.
  • Paraphrasing another person’s words and ideas without crediting the source.
  • Authors plagiarize themselves when they use one of their previously published works in a current work and don’t cite it.

The above information on plagiarism comes from the MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016. I recommend every author get a copy of this book, especially those who write nonfiction.

I recommend going to the copyright office’s website, download the circulars that apply, then read and study them. As authors, we need to at least become familiar with its basics.

Recommended Links

Circulars | U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright Protection – Why Should You Register Copyrights? – Gerben Law Firm

Top 10 Reasons You Should Register Your Copyright – FindLaw

Recommended Book

MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Be Original: Find Your Literary Voice

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C. S. Lewis

A Definition

What is literary voice? The term isn’t easily defined. Some writers write fast-paced stories, whereas other writers’ stories move at a slower pace, with long sentences and paragraphs. A writer’s literary voice is unique—original— and sets writers apart from other writers.

Two Examples

Let’s look at two excellent examples of literary voice. Our first one comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). He writes in a dark, gloomy voice.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

Our second example comes from William Faulkner’s famous short story, “The Bear” (1942). He writes in a stream of consciousness, using long sentences and other devices to imitate the natural thought processes we use.

He was ten. But it had already begun, long before that day when at last he wrote his age in two figures and he saw for the first time the camp and Major de Spain and old General Compson and the others spent two weeks each November and two weeks again each June. He had already inherited then, without having seen it, the tremendous bear with one trap-ruined foot which, in an area almost a hundred miles deep, had earned itself a name, a definite designation like a living man.

Developing Your Literary Voice

Each writer develops his/her own voice through lots of writing and practice. As we grow in our craft, we’ll discover our own unique voice that sets us apart from others. We must choose our words carefully (diction) and arrange them in grammatically correct ways(syntax) to express our thoughts in a voice unique to us.

Punctuation also plays a role. If we hear a pause in our prose, use either a period, semi-colon, or comma. Which mark we use depends on the pause’s length, something we’ll discuss later.

Things to Avoid

  • Monotonous writing. Monotonous writing has no personality. To give it personality, mix long sentences with short sentences, long paragraphs with short paragraphs, and vary different types of sentences within a paragraph. .
  • Wordiness. When writing sentences, whether they’re long or short, be sure every word used contributes to the sentence’s clarity. That is, be concise. This means getting rid of all unnecessary word(s): cut the clutter.

Have you found your literary voice? If not, keep on writing and eventually, you will.

Writing a Back Flash

Back flashes don't affect a story's forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that's affected him/her

Back flashes don’t affect a story’s forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that’s affected him or her.

A back flash provides information about a character’s past either through dialogue or the character’s thoughts. It’s the best option for writers when they want to reveal something about a character’s past. Be careful not to write long back flashes, however. Instead, include snippets of information about a character’s past as the story progresses.

Back Flash in Thoughts

When Walter saw the accident on the road up ahead, a pain stabbed his heart. As he lifted his foot off the gas pedal, he pointed at it. His friend and passenger, James, stared at the scene’s police cars and ambulance.

            “Amelia,” Walter muttered.

            “Amelia?” James said. “Oh, yes. I remember.”

            Walter passed the accident in silence. It happened two years ago. Amelia Easterling and he were engaged, and then that horrible accident happened at the movie theater. He’d hit a large van backing out of its parking space. The crash killed her instantly. Oh, how he missed her!

            He pulled into a grocery store’s parking lot. He had to get his mind on other things. “Let’s get our soda and chips fast.”

            James slammed the car door behind him. “Right, Walter. I’m hungry.”

Back Flash in Dialogue

Walter nudged his friend James when they entered the grocery store. “Hey, look over yonder. That pretty lady examining the oranges.”

            James halted near the cash registers. “Yeah. She looks sorta like Amelia. I’m glad you’ve recovered from that accident you had. It wasn’t your fault.”

            “We were arguing at the time, James,” Walter said. “I was driving, so it was my fault. I should’ve been paying better attention to the traffic. She’d still be alive if I’d been doing that.”

            James smiled at the lady as she headed for the vegetables. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

            Walter shrugged. “Why not?”


Writing a Flashback

Some authors don’t use flashbacks in their stories while others do. Although flashbacks present certain problems, if written wisely and at the right points in your story, they can be useful.

Definition of a Flashback

A flashback is a scene written in the present that looks back on a past event.

Why Use a Flashback

Flashbacks deepen our characters, explaining their behaviors and motivations. This is one of many good reasons for writing a biography for the main characters.

Two Problems with Flashbacks

  • If used in an opening chapter, it tells a story before the novel’s real story begins. This causes the book to start slow.
  • Flashbacks used in the middle of a book interrupt the story and slows down its pace.

Rules for Flashbacks

The flashback must be relevant to a story and not just “thrown in.”

Flashbacks should be written in the present, like a scene happening now.

General rule: Don’t write a flashback until the story’s first 50 pages. However, like all rules, this one can be broken if the writer has a good reason for doing it. See the next rule.

Only use flashbacks when you have a good reason. Does the flashback contribute to understanding a character and that character’s motivation? Will it add something to the plot? If not, don’t use it.

Don’t write an information dump. Write is as a scene: dialogue, action, and conflict.

Get in and out of the flashback seamlessly. Write it in such a way that readers don’t notice a transition from past to present.

Sir Walter Scott, creator of the historical fiction genre

Example of a Flashback

Walter slowed his car when he spotted the accident on the road ahead. A Ford Mustang was on fire. Two police cars, an ambulance … a fire truck squealed past him, siren blaring. Its siren sent shudders through him, like he shuddered on that fateful day years ago when he was driving his girlfriend, Amelia, to a movie.

“I don’t want to see Rocky,” she said.  

“Well, I do,” Walter said.

“You don’t love me.” Amelia huffed and glared straight ahead. “You’re not taking me to see Freaky Friday.”

“Dumb movie. Waste of money.”

“Humph. How would you know?” She stuck a piece of chewing gum in her mouth. She often chewed gum when she was mad.

Walter accelerated into the theater’s parking lot as their arguing reached a fever pitch. “All right. We’ll go to that stupid flick.” Irritated, he accelerated and smashed into a large van backing out of a parking space. Crunched his car on Amelia’s side. His engine exploded. He managed to climb out and struggled to help her while a witness called 9-1-1.

As police cars squealed onto the scene, their sirens blaring, Amelia died while flames swallowed his car.

Up ahead, the fire truck silenced its siren as it stopped at the accident. Walter drove past, uttering a prayer for those who were injured while he wept for Amelia.

Three Tips for Smooth Flashbacks

Sensory Detail: Use a sensory detail to get in and out of flashbacks. In my example, I used the detail, hearing.  The fire truck’s siren prompted Walter’s tragic memory. Then, to get out of his flashback, I again referred to the fire truck’s siren in the last sentence ashe drives past the accident.

Transitional Words: These also help writers get in and out of a flashback. For example, words such as recall, remember, etc. For example: When Walter heard the fire truck’s siren., he remembered that fateful day when … Then move into the flashback scene.

Had: James Scott Bell, in his book Plot & Structure, recommends using had no more than two times to get into a flashback scene, but do not use this word in the scene itself.

Example of Using Had

Walter slowed his car when he spotted the accident on the road ahead. A Ford Mustang was on fire. Two police cars, an ambulance…a fire truck squealed past him, siren blaring. Its siren sent shudders through him, like it had on that fateful day years ago when he and his girlfriend, Amelia, were on their way to a movie….

Next week, the back flash.


Bell, James Scott. Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure, Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2004.

How to Write a Flashback Scene: 7 Key Steps | Now Novel

How to Write a Flashback | Advanced Fiction Writing

What My Cat Taught Me

Photo by Georgie Devlin on

And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight (Numbers 13:33, KJV).

Behind my childhood home runs an alley. From this alley, stray cats often wandered onto our property where my mother always fed them. Alley cats they were, in the strictest sense, so it’s no wonder that I adopted a stray who wandered onto my lawn in Kenner, Louisiana.

A beautiful gray kitty with a gentle temperament, she was the perfect pet. I named her Koshka, Russian for a female cat, I’d learned in my college’s Russian class. One day, though, a neighbor looked down at her and said to me, “Your cat looks pregnant.”

Pregnant! The word gripped my throat. That was the last thing I needed. I could afford Koshka, but care for a litter of kittens? Oh, no! For several days, I studied Koshka’s swollen belly. Mews and meows of imaginary kittens wreaked havoc on my brain’s “movie screen.” What would happen after she gave birth? Happen? To her? To her kittens? What about me? My bank account? My money?

Every day, visions of dwindling finances dominated my concerns. Anxieties intensified. I wanted to scream: “Koshka, girl, why are you doing this to me?”

Finally, I took her to the veterinarian to verify her pregnancy.

After his examination, he announced the verdict. “She’s not pregnant. She’s been spayed. She’s just fat.”

Whew! All my nervous tension broke at his announcement. Peace swept over and through me like a gurgling stream.

But isn’t this what the enemy does to us if we let him? After Moses’ twelves spies returned from scouting out Canaan, panic seized ten of them. They couldn’t take the land. Giants were there, “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” First Satan planted doubt in their minds, then faithlessness supplanted faith, and finally, an overactive imagination produced an overwhelming terror. Because they believed what they saw and listened to the enemy’s lie, they missed God’s blessing.

Not so, two other spies, Caleb and Joshua. God told them He’d given them the land, and they believed it. They listened to His word. When the day finally arrived, they marched into the Promised Land, the last survivors of Moses’ generation.

Because I listened to the authority regarding Koshka, I gained peace of mind. Likewise, when we listen to and heed God’s authority, His Word, the Lord will lead us to victory through every battle just as He did Caleb and Joshua.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I believe Your Word, Your holy Scriptures, the only authority for how I live my life. Thank You for it, and for the peace You give me when I listen to and obey You. May I continue heeding Your guidance. Help me to ignore the enemy’s lies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Brief Reflection
When we listen to Satan’s negative thoughts, we allow him to steal our faith. Do we believe God’s promises and walk in faith like Caleb and Joshua?

Passages for Study
John 8:33-47
John 6:34-4

This excerpt is taken from Reflections of a Southern Boy: Devotions from the Deep South. Published by Ashland Park Books, it is available at in both paperback and Kindle. To purchase a copy, visit the Bookstore page on this site.
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2018 by John “Jack” M. Cunningham, Jr. 

Dr. Johnson’s Advice

Dr. Samuel Johnson was a famous poet, literary critic, and editor. He compiled and organized A Dictionary of the English Language, which was used for 150 years before the Oxford English Dictionarys publication

In Joshua Reynolds’ portrait, the painter shows Dr. Johnson holding a manuscript close to his eyes. Why? Because the great writer was nearsighted, and Reynolds wanted to show this.

Dr. Johnson’s advice: “The greatest part of a writer’s life is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Diction and Style

Every writer has his/her own style, and good editors know how to enhance that style. After all, that’s one of an editor’s main jobs.

What is style? It’s how a writer expresses himself/herself on the page. One factor contributing to style is diction—word choice.

The words a writer chooses contribute not only to his/her literary style but also its tone. Some writers use a straightforward, unadorned style using everyday words while others use flowery language, big words, and lots of imagery. To determine whether these styles are appropriate, consider two things: audience and purpose.


When writing for the general reader, avoid multi-syllable Latinate words – English words that originated from Latin. Use common English words instead. If writing for a scientific or scholarly publication, use Latinate words because readers of those publications expect it.


Why are we writing our article, story, or book? Do we want to convey joy, anger, concern? Or something else. Choose words that convey our purpose and meaning. Let’s look at the first paragraph of an article I wrote for “HiCall,” an Assemblies of God publication.

Inheriting the Promises of God

The moon beamed her pale silver light over us as we slowly waded in shallow gulf waters. An occasional seagull flew overhead, laughing at our plight. Sometimes we felt the gentle bumps of needlefish as they followed my father’s floundering light. Crabs scurried along the sandy bottom as we approached them. We began to tire, and it seemed we had walked for hours….


My Audience: Teenaged boys, so I chose a subject that would appeal to them—floundering with my father.

My Tone: A sense of pleasantness and relaxation while on a vacation. I hope you felt it.

Diction: Happy and pleasant details/words—the moon beaming, seagulls laughing, gentle bumps.

Inheriting the Promises of God

Frustrated Tone

The moon sneaked behind forbidding clouds as we waded aimlessly in shallow gulf waters. A seagull’s cackle mocked us. Needlefish rammed our legs—stupid fish! Crabs fled every direction along the sandy bottom. After all the pitiful hours my father and I trudged, we were exhausted. Where were the flounders?


In this revision, I used negative words such as sneaked, forbidding, aimlessly, mocked, rammed. stupid, pitiful, trudged and exhausted. I also ended with a question, which highlighted my frustration. I hope you see the difference..

Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research

Choose your words carefully when you write. Oh, by the way, my father and I ended up with lots of flounders before the night was over.

Quick Tip: Implication

One effective way to describe something is through implication. The famous Russian author, Anton Chekhov, once said: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.” When he said this, he was speaking about using implication. If we see the light on the broken glass at night, this implies that the moon is shining.

Four Benefits of Journaling

Photo by Michael Burrows on

Ever since I started writing seriously in the mid-1980s, I’ve kept journals. I didn’t use those fancy leather-bound journals available at some stores, though they are fine to use. My earliest journals were on inexpensive spiral notebooks. As a writer, I’ve found journaling an invaluable tool for my craft.

How often should one write in them? Some will recommend people write in them every day. Although I’m not opposed to this, I don’t write in my journal every day. I do, however, try to write in it as often as I can.

Journaling has lots of benefits for writers and non-writers. I share four of these benefits here.

Four Benefits

  1. Journaling is therapeutic. When we’re going through a difficult time or a personal crisis, journaling helps us express our emotions. By writing, we can vent our feelings and find release from stress. Psychologist James Pennebaker says journaling reduces “the impact of stressors on our immune system.”
  2. Journaling helps our creativity and also helps to overcome writer’s block. Through journaling, we can practice new styles of writing and experiment without the pressure of deadlines. Sometimes, ideas will pop into our heads for stories or articles. Keep a running list of these ideas in a journal.
  3. Journaling improves our writing. Through journaling we learn to express ourselves better, and this includes clearer conversations with other people too.
  4. When we journal on a regular basis, we develop self-discipline. Self-discipline — writing everyday regardless of how we feel — is one of the keys to succeeding as a writer.

If you haven’t been journaling, why not start today? All you need is a pen and notebook. It’s never too late.


Lidia Kesarovska,  “The 17 Benefits of Journaling That Will Motivate You to Start Writing Tomorrow,” Let’s Reach Success (blog)January 9, 2020,

“Benefits of Journaling: The Science and Philosophy Behind Keeping a Diary,” Intelligent Change (blog),, n.d.

Thai Nguyen, “Ten Surprising Benefits You’ll Get From Keeping a Journal,” HuffPost, February 13, 2015

“How to Write Better: 5 Benefits of Journaling,” MasterClass, August 30, 2021, https//

Ethical Writing: Quoting the Bible

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Is it possible for Christian writers to get in legal trouble when they quote the Bible? Yes. This is especially true for indie authors. To quote any modern translation requires written permission from that translation’s publisher. If we quote it without permission, not only is it unethical, it also breaks copyright law.

Copyright law does have a Fair Use clause which says a writer may quote a certain amount of copyrighted material without permission. However, it doesn’t specify how much an author may quote. It’s always wise, in my opinion, to ask for it first. As an indie author, I use the Authorized King James Version because it’s in the public domain in the United States. In the United Kingdom, a writer still needs permission. It’s copyrighted there.

For United Kingdom authors., here’s an important link: Rights and Permissions | Cambridge University Press

Typically, traditional publishers have a contractual agreement with certain Bible publishers. In their guidelines for writers, they specify which translations they use. Thus, writers for these publishers needn’t worry about getting permission.

Of course, indie authors can use modern translations if they get permission first. The best way to do this is to visit a Bible publisher’s website and click on its “Terms of Use” or similar link, usually at the bottom of the Home page. Then read what it says regarding its copyright status and how to obtain permission. Sometimes, it’ll lead us to another page where we can fill out a request form to submit.

Steps to Follow, B & H Publishers

  1. Visit Home – B&H Publishing (
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the Home Page.
  3. Under “About Us,” click on “Privacy Policy and Terms.”
  4. Under the “Permissions” section, click here.
  5. On the Permissions Page, click on Licensing and Permissions Request form
  6. Fill out form and submit

This is how to request permission from the B & H Publishing Group. Other Bible publishers use a similar procedure.