I Love That -- I'm Stealing It.
Have you ever read something over and over again because it's beautifully written? I have. As a writer, sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's a bad thing.
Good thing: you're struck by the emotion or imagery it evoked, so you read it several times because you want to remember it.
Bad thing: it's lovely, but it pulls you out of the story and makes you think about that sentence or wonder about that word. Anything that makes you step out of the story and ponder whether that word is right or what the phrase means or why the character is thinking that or saying that stops your flow.
Every writer has read something and thought, I love that. I'm stealing it. Yep. Stealing is plagiarism and plagiarism is bad, bad, very bad. But that's not what most writers actually do when they "steal something." What they do -- and what I do -- is they take the inspiration and use it, giving it our own little twist.
For example, I might read a sentence such as "His gaze danced across her skin and she felt every step, every turn, and every dip." I might like that and think, I'm stealing that. Then in the book I'm writing I pen, "His sloe-eyed gaze sambaed over her face and body with a slow, sexiness that increased the tempo of her heartbeat."
It's not the same sentence, right? But it was inspired by what the other writer penned. That's what "stealing" is to most writers. What we're actually doing is writing something that was triggered by a good piece of writing composed by someone else. It's actually a compliment, even though the other writer will probably never know about it.
When you get into trouble is when you actually rip off someone's writing, word for word. There have been some famous cases of this and they're all tragic to me. Why? Because it means that writer was in such a funk that he or she deserted his/her own integrity. Often, it's a financial thing. A deadline is on them and they haven't completed the work, so they start "borrowing" plot and dialogue from someone else's work, thinking that no one will notice.
Someone always notices, though.
Be inspired by other works and use them as springboards to better prose. If you like how a scene progresses in a book, try a similar scene in your book -- without looking at the inspirational scene as you craft your own version. Looking at the other writer's scene will hamper your own creativity. It's enough to remember how you felt as you read the scene and then try to create that same feeling yourself in your own work.
"Steal" the feelings and the level of excellence, but never the actual words.