An Original Copy
(Imitate to Innovate)
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
— Pablo Picasso
In my article Plagiarism Is A Wonderful Teacher, I told you about my first foray into the filmmaking world (as an eight-year-old) and how I ripped off a popular movie to create my own story. I continued that into my teens and throughout my early learning process. It was a lot of fun and took away the mental strain of creating a full set of original characters. If you’re struggling for ideas, you should try it out.
Inspiration comes from everywhere.
My first novel was inspired by a DT teacher who hated me, and my love of all things gory . . .
As a teen (and following me long into my adult life) I found it extremely difficult to engage in any type of hands-on DIY-type activities. I was good at sports, but when it came to design technology, woodwork, building, engineering — anything deemed “manly”, I guess — I couldn’t do it. Or I didn’t want to, which is basically the same thing.
My time in class was spent talking, joking, messing about, throwing stuff around, sabotaging my work and generally just acting a fool for the entertainment of my friends. The usual dumb teen shit.
After months of putting up with my dickish and lazy behaviour, the Head of DT kicked me out. In spite of Design Technology being a required test for my GCSEs, he said it would be a waste of money to enter me for the test as I would clearly fail. Which was true. I couldn’t even build a wooden box. He hated me, and understandably so.
It also worked in my favour, and I’m grateful he took such extreme action.
Every DT lesson after that, while everyone else had to hammer away at a box, I had my own table — out of the class, down the hall, away from everybody. My teacher didn’t give me any specific tasks to complete. He said I could revise, listen to music, doodle on a pad, plot murder, whatever. He didn’t give a shit as long as I was out of his way.
Instead of wasting my time, I chose to write a novel. Up until that point I’d only written an offensive short story for my English class (read about that here) and didn’t have any real desire to be a writer. If anything, I thought I’d become the next Eminem.
Anyway, I took up my spot in the corner with a red-lined work book (which I’d stolen from one of the DT classes) and a black biro, and I began to write my first novel — Scream 4: Scream Louder. For some reason, I also gave myself the pen name Casey Jaxon, which I later changed to Kasey with a K. And then I threw it away completely and stuck with my real name.
In any case, I’m a little sketchy on how I came to write the Scream novel. All I know is that I’d been a big fan of the first two movies (at the age of twelve I’d convinced an adult in HMV to buy them for me) and I found the third film painful to watch. The dialogue, the scenes, the construction, the reveal — everything about it was wrong.
I figured I could write a better Scream 4 and send it off to the film studios. So I got to work on my masterpiece, and by the end of the year I’d completed my first movie-novel . . . and it was terrible.
When I look back on it now (and also the ill-conceived script version), I cringe at how bad it is. No amount of rewriting and re-jigging can fix it. The writing is awful, the dialogue is over-the-top, the plot is all over the place, and the reveal of the multiple killers is laughable.
Around the time I finished writing the script version, a website called TriggerStreet popped up. Founded by Kevin Spacey, this website was originally a place for everyone to post their scripts and get feedback. If enough people liked and rated your screenplay, there was a possibility TriggerStreet (or Hollywood, or whoever) would option your movie and record it for the big screen. I posted it up, figuring somebody would discover my script, pay me millions, and film the damn thing.
I had no idea. Even with all the negative responses I received, I was resolute: This is gold.
(A gold piece of shit.)
But I kept writing, and that’s the main thing. I evolved as a writer. I grew from somebody who stole his ideas from other minds — even my Scream 4 plot was merely a mishmash and rehash of the other films — to a writer with his own imagination. I stuck at it and cultivated my skills. And although I wrote a lot of horrific, derivative work in the early days, it all helped me become the writer I am today. It layered my progress.
You think Michael Jordan could do a 360 dunk in the hoop his first time? No. It takes years of practice. Even with raw talent, you have to hone it. Look at the work of the best authors — see what they do right, check what they do wrong. They’re not infallible.
Practice, plagiarise, copy, and one day you’ll notice your style creeping through. And when it does, water it, let it grow, and wait until it takes over and eventually you’ll see nothing but YOU.
That’s when you know you’ve become the writer you want to be.
If only the journey ended there . . .
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