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.

The insanely (and inexplicably) popular Fifty Shades of Grey series started off as Twilight fan-fiction.

Inspiration comes from everywhere.

My first novel was inspired by a DT teacher who hated me, and my love of all things gory . . . 


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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.


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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.


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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.) 


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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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Plagiarism Is A Wonderful Teacher
(And Also Illegal)

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

— Charles Caleb Colton

Way back when I was but a mere boy (about seven or eight), my Year 3 teacher, Mr. Buzzard — a man equally feared and respected — assigned the class a task: to write a short story that would later be turned into a stop-animation film. Only the top five would be chosen and then we’d work together in groups to create the characters and scenery — cutting out the shapes, colouring them in, sizing them, gluing them in place, etc. Basically, our film would be a regular Blue Peter production. And once we’d completed all the hard work, a couple of directors were to come in and film our stories. The movies would end up looking like crude, cheap versions of a standard South Park episode. At the time, we were all desperate to win. This was before parents’ groups began lobbying schools to be more protective of children and their self-esteem. There was no It’s the taking part that counts. You won, or you didn’t.

And back then, even though I didn’t realise I wanted to be a writer, I did know I wanted to be a winner. Competition was in my bones, ingrained in me from birth. I was adamant I’d win this goddamn story competition, no matter what. Even if I had to cheat and steal to do it.

And that’s exactly what I did . . .

Me

(Me, aged 8)

Mr. Buzzard told us to structure our story in comic form, which would make it easier to transfer to the film format. I sat at my desk, pen in hand, clueless about what to write. Every idea I thought of seemed lame. After all, I was just a kid. What did I know about creating stories? This was too damn hard. In truth, I was talking myself out of it; making excuses out of a fear I’d fail or embarrass myself. It was the same limiting behaviour many writers still continue deep into adulthood. Convincing ourselves we’re worthless or rubbish. Telling ourselves we can’t write anything worth reading.

Then I remembered a film I’d seen recently and enjoyed: an animated short of Wallace and Gromit called The Wrong Trousers. From what I can remember the film is about a penguin orchestrating a robbery — and he plans to use Wallace as some kind of scapegoat/accomplice to the crime by using a mechanical pair of trousers to manipulate Wallace’s actions. And at one point in the movie, the penguin is mistaken for a chicken due to a red glove on his head. I can’t recall whether the robbery involved stealing a diamond, but I suspect it did. Either way, it seemed like the perfect story to plagiarise (not that I knew what plagiarism was at that age), and I began writing my story, hoping nobody would recognise the similarities.

They didn’t.

I named my story The Great Chicken Crime. It was about a chicken (I wasn’t so bold as to choose a penguin) who robs a museum for a diamond, then feels guilty (for whatever reason) and sends the diamond back to the police. He ends up in jail. That’s it. The plot was as simplistic as possible, but every idea was ripped and manipulated from the Wallace and Gromit cartoon. The two were dissimilar enough to consider my story “original”, but it was definitely a derivation of a superior work.

Even so, Mr. Buzzard picked The Great Chicken Crime as one of the top five pieces. I felt amazing. To think, out of thirty students, my story was being adapted for the screen. Albeit, an adaptation of a stolen idea.

But whatever.

It still counts. I was an eight-year-old screenwriter. 

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My point is this: in our earliest stages as writers, before we’ve fully honed our voice, when we’re still trying to discover the kind of author we want to be, copying our favourite writers can be a useful apprenticeship. I’m not suggesting ripping off their work and selling it — but it doesn’t hurt to toy around with plots by using those that you already know. Maybe you could write Stephen King’s Misery from the perspective of a female author. Maybe you could try writing Oliver Twist in a modern setting. Or possibly you could update Romeo and Juliet with contemporary dialogue. Whatever you choose, it doesn’t need to be written as a means to publication. Sometimes it’s good to experiment. Push aside your hopes and aspirations for now — put them on hold. Instead, draw from the writers you admire; copy their style, their dialogue, play around with it, fuse your own voice in with theirs and see what happens. It can only help you grow in the long run.

Too many aspiring authors want to do backflips before they can walk. They’re so precious about everything they write; they analyse every sentence and seek perfection, which, a lot of the time is merely an excuse to procrastinate. Take your critical hat off and just have fun with it. Don’t sit down at the piano for the first time and expect to play Beethoven straight off the bat. Mozart learned by copying the greats, learning the keys, and hearing the music in his head. A lot has been written about his precocious talents — Mozart could reportedly play the piano to a high-standard and structure symphonies at the ridiculously young age of five — but it wasn’t until his teens that he began composing truly original work. Up until that point, he was merely a master of imitation. 

I have plenty of half-finished old novels in various styles; whichever author I was into at the time of writing, I’d be influenced by. Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Stephen King. I went through stages where I picked the stuff I liked from their writing and merged it with my own, typing out stories in their tone, in their towns, with characters that seemed like copies of their creations — after all, I figured a terrible Stephen King story is better than a good story from a shitbag nobody. In the end, I realised how wrong I’d been, and my natural style came through anyway. I suspect it’s merely a mass amalgamation of my favourite writers and every book I’ve ever read, but that’s okay. It’s still distinctively my voice.

So copy, learn, experiment, and eventually you’ll weed it all out and develop your own style . . . filtered through the thousands who came before you.

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