Fair Use in Novels


I often get questions from Anons asking me what is appropriate to use in a novel, from song quotes to character names of wildly popular characters from other books (names that are obviously more unique than just Sarah or Alice or Amelia). So I’m going to lay the groundwork of what writers can and can’t use in their novels—or for their novels.

  1. Quotes from song lyrics. You can’t do this. Period. If you want to use quoted song lyrics, you would have to get permission from the artists themselves—and you would likely have to pay a heady sum of money to obtain that permission. A big part of the reason why you can’t do this is because song lyrics are often so short in the first place, and if you misquote even one word, you run the risk of being sued. In fact, you run the risk of being sued period if your book is somehow published with quoted song lyrics from an actual band. 
  1. Names of fictional characters. One Anon asked me if he or she could use a fictional character’s name as a nickname for one of his/her characters. As far as I know, this is not copyright infringement, especially if the character whose nicknamed Harry Potter does not in anyway resemble the actual Harry Potter. It is also not copyright infringement to use a fictional character’s name in passing. For example, in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, Leonard frequently mentions Holden Caulfield as a comparison to himself. Holden Caulfield, however, is not an actual character in the book. There’s also the question of cameos, and whether or not a writer can use an actual character as a cameo in the book. This is on shaky ground, because using a published fictional character as a cameo technically is not copyright infringement, until that character actually starts talking. However, from the article I linked to you, you still run the risk of being sued. Fan fiction is an entirely different matter, as most writers don’t profit from this work, and authors want to please enthusiastic readers. (I would both cry and feel EXTREMELY flattered if someone were to ever write a fanfiction of my book, When Stars Die.)
  1. Public domain. Any book before 1923 is fair use. Granted this does not mean you can re-write the entire book. Basically this means you can quote these works, while attributing their authors to them, in your novels. Frenchie,from Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez, frequently talks about Emily Dickinson and quotes her as well. Libba Bray puts a part of Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shallot, in A Great and Terrible Beauty. And when I do revisions for my novels, I’d like for my protagonist to quote parts of Edgar Allan Poe. 
  2. Titles. You don’t need permission to use song titles, movie titles, book titles, television titles, and so on and so forth. You can also include the names of things, place, and events and people in your work without permission. I mention Paula Dean in brief passing in the current work I’m writing, because she owns a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, the place my character lives. 
  3. Pictures. I’m primarily talking about if you’re self-publishing or are allowed to work with your publisher (usually small press) on designing the cover. ANY stock photos listed on any stock photo website is fair game and can be photoshopped as much as you want to. However, you often have to buy these photos, but once you pay for them, they are yours to do with what you want. Unfortunately, you run the risk of having a similar book cover as another book, especially if you don’t do too much to that image beyond slapping your name and title of the book on it. The cover for When Stars Die received a heavy makeover, so it is not likely that I will find another book using my exact cover. I may find a book using the girl on the cover, but the plum blossoms, the colors, how the girl was edited, and my title and name are probably going to be next to impossible to find on another book. 
  4. Quoting famous people. If the quote from, let’s say, a famous speech in the past, is over 100 years old, that work is likely in the public domain, so it’s fair to use quotes from  Georgie Washington or another popular figure. 
  5. Referencing facts. If you’re referencing facts, like how the universe was made, this is not copyright infringement—they are unadorned facts. For the current novel I’m working on, I did use a website to help Gene’s teacher explain black holes, because Gene uses black holes as a motif to describe how people can have an effect on one another. However, because this is knowledge that you can pick up from any text book or even an astronomy class you took, I don’t need to quote the source I took it from because I did not repeat word-for-word what that website said. The website simply listed facts that you can find anywhere from a legitimate source. 
  6. Using quotes from TV, films, or advertising. These are copyrighted, so don’t use them, unless you want to get sued. 

For now, these are the only points I can think of on what writers are allowed to use and not use in their novels. If someone can think of anything more, feel free to re-blog and add to this list!

Ask Box is always open, and I think this is the last day for my book/Amazon gift card giveaway, so you better enter while you can!


Phil Coulson once filled in Captain America’s name on a presidential ballot as a write in.

what do you mean “once”



Miley just broke the laws of physics.

that was unexpected




(taken and edited from my great, amazing Television professor last spring.)

The Square — Often the central protagonist, and usually The Everyman or the Only Sane Man or Woman.   A large portion of the comedy from such a character comes from his/her reactions to the situation or other characters.

The Wisecracker — The domain of the SNARKER or PUN MAKER.  This character just lives to make fun of others.  If the protagonist isn’t a Square, s/he is most likely a Wisecracker.

The Bully — Despite the name, The Bully is oftentimes not an actual bully per se, but is sometimes a  Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Typically more outright belligerent than The Wisecracker, if written as a complete Jerkass, The Bully may actively dislike all the other characters. If female, this will be The Rich Bitch.

The Dork — Aka the Nerd, the Dork need not be stereotypically nerdy or geeky, at least not visually, though he or she should be such in relation to the other members of the cast.  

The Goofball — This role is typically filled by The Ditz or the Cloud Cuckoo Character, but the character could also be generically zany or a  Blithe Spirit rather than outright ditzy. Could also be a Pollyanna, with naivety serving as the defining trait; if so, expect this to be the youngest character.

The Charmer — This character comes in two varieties: First, the Casanova, the lover, the player. Enough said. Second, a more classically refined character, someone who is a devout adherent to old-fashioned politeness, grace and decorum.

The Stick — Crank The Square up to eleven, and you have The Stick. This character is extremely uptight and stuffy, a stickler for the rules if you will, a stick in the mud as it were. Usually humorless, often humorously so. The humor from The Stick generally results from his/her dismay or outright horror at the antics of the others. 

The Sage — Usually an older character, this person acts as a sort of Mentor to the main characters, dispensing advice and a fable or two. Though close to the main group, The Sage generally exists outside that group, for example a neighbor, or an authority figure such as a teacher.

The Bigmouth — A (sometimes) softer, less-hateful alternative to The Bully, The Bigmouth is an annoying, um, bigmouth. Whether s/he is a  Know-Nothing Know-It-All, an overbearing egotist like Ted Baxter, or an intrusive Nosy Neighbor, The Bigmouth just has a knack for getting on everyone’s nerves.

In my great search through my blog this morning I refound this post.

It’s gold.

And I’m writing a sitcom right now so it’s useful.


Hello, writerly friends~ ♥︎

You asked for a Writing Advice Masterpost, so here it is! Below you will find a collection of the best questions and answers from the last two years. Not only that, but they are also organized so you can find the answers to your questions quickly and get on with writing.

But wait, there is more!

This post is more than just a collection of advice, it’s a nexus for writing advice, resources, and information! That’s right, this post is going to grow over time. I will be updating this masterpost WEEKLY with new answers, writing advice videos, playlists, and more! So, make sure to bookmark this page and follow my blog (maxkirin.tumblr.com) so you don’t miss a thing~ ♥︎


Virtual Writing Academy

Motivation & Inspiration

Planning, Outlining, and Getting Started


Editing & Revision

Hot Button Issues

General Advice


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Last Updated: 07-26-14. Click HERE to see the latest update. Latest posts are in Italics.


exhibit 72936 of why the marvel vs dc argument is stupid: both let rob liefield draw actual comics for them that actual real life people bought

there are no winners here


The latest generator, the random demon maker! Complete with horns, wings, and (mostly) unappealing personality traits, you can make your own demon in varying degrees of non-human-ness.  

(Fun fact you can technically get my headcanon for demon!Dean on Supernatural [but that’s probably like a one in a million chance])


It’s been a while since I made a generator, so here’s a companion to the Demon Generator.  You can get some pretty unconventional angels from some of these combinations.  If you do make a character with this, tag ‘characterdesigninspiration’ so I can see them!

To Play: click and drag each gif or take a screenshot of the whole thing.

Building a Character Arc


One of the best parts of an awesome character is watching them grow and change over the course of the novel. Even if you’re planning a multi-book series and they don’t complete their arc in book 1, they still should be making progress.

Basically, a character arc shows…

What’s up with active voice and passive voice?



To better understand passive voice, we should compare it to active voice and see how the two differ.

In active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb:

  • John (the subject) ate nine doughnuts this morning.
  • I (the subject) finished the 25-page essay last night.
  • The Doctor (the subject) greeted me.


In passive voice, the recipient or target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. 

We can recognize passive-voice expressions because the verb phrase will often (but not always) include a form of “be,” such as am, is, was, were, are, or been. Another way to recognize passive-voice sentences is that they may include a “by (someone or something)" phrase after the verb:

  • Nine doughnuts were eaten by John this morning.
  • The 25-page essay was finished by me last night.
  • I was greeted by the Doctor.



Let’s look at an example in which passive voice is clearly not inferior to active voice. In the active-voice sentence “I love you,” the focus is on me (I), not on you. To some people, this sentence can sound narcissistic.

But if we turn it into the pass-voice sentence “You are loved by me,” the focus is on you (the person I love), not me. To some people, this can be more romantic than the active-voice sentence.

Therefore, the passive voice can sometimes be an effective stylistic device (in small doses).


All of you are loved by Finn the Human (passive), and Finn the Human loves all of you (active).