Writing Tip: Steal Bicycles
Entertainment

Writing Tip: Steal Bicycles

In which my screenwriting professor gives me some interesting advice

16
Clipart Panda

I’m a writer with dreams of working in film, so I took a screenwriting course this past semester. In addition to working on our own screenplays, every week we watched a new film and read the screenplay. And every week, my teacher asked us the same unusual question: “What would you steal?”

The first few times she asked us that question, I was very confused. Was she really encouraging us to steal parts of the movies we saw? Wasn’t that, well, copyright infringement? Also, wasn’t the point of learning to be a writer to train our brains to be original? Shouldn’t we avoid what’s been done before, for fear of being sued by a film company or of coming off as derivative and cliché to your viewers?

To explain herself, my teacher told us a story about a trip she took to Europe. I’ve forgotten what city or country she was in, but one day she went to pick up a friend for lunch, riding a bicycle there. She leaned her bicycle against the wall, took a few steps away to knock on the door and shout upstairs to her friend, and then returned to her bicycle -- but the bicycle was no longer there. It had been stolen.

My teacher tried to find her bicycle, but she quickly learned that in this particular city, bicycle theft was incredibly difficult to combat. People would take a bicycle, and shortly afterwards that bicycle would have been taken apart and mixed up with the parts of other bicycles -- a wheel here, a handlebar there -- with the result that several people would now be riding on bicycles that included a part of her bicycle, but there was no way to prove that they had taken her bicycle. Her bicycle, effectively, did not exist anymore. What existed now were several “new” bicycles, which had been made possible by an old bicycle.

This was how she wanted us to look at “stealing” from other people’s work: as using something old to make something new, something that no one could look at and say, “That’s identical to this old thing I saw before,” but something that wouldn’t exist without that old thing. What could we take from a movie or screenplay and work with to make it our own?

Stories are bicycles -- metaphorically, of course. They are the result of a collective experience, one that’s built up since before copyright was a thing, or before we even had developed the letters used to spell “copyright infringement.” If a story is going to mean something to someone, it has to be relatable in some way. A completely new story, if it is to be understood, must in some way come from the already-understandable world. And the best way to learn what can be understood is to look to other stories that have made it big.

Writers steal all the time, both intentionally and unintentionally. We literally cannot avoid what has been done before. To illustrate, let me tell a story of my own. My family just read the screenplay I wrote this semester. Now, I knew that I’d stolen some things: the repeated “We need to plan; we need to think” from "Thelma and Louise," the dramatic all-revealing rant from near the end of "Chinatown," and the emotional rather than beat-by-beat description of the battle between Jack Sparrow and Barbossa in the screenplay of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl." What I didn’t see coming was that when I read aloud the part where my villain refers to the heroes as “meddlesome kids,” and my sister chimed in, off-script, “And their dumb dog, too!”

We all laughed, and I truthfully insisted that it wasn’t an intentional reference, but of course I had stolen it. Where else would I have gotten that idea? This movie, which no one would look at and think is a total ripoff of "Scooby-Doo" (it’s not a mystery, no one’s in a costume, and there are no goofy chase scenes), would nonetheless not exist as it does without that old cartoon. My screenplay is a new bicycle, with a pedal from "Scooby-Doo," accidentally stolen.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Lifestyle

13 Father's Day Shirts Under $30 To Gift The Dad Wearing The Same Two Every Day In Quarantine

You've been begging him to change it up, and now he won't have a choice.

Let's be honest: most of our dads are wearing the same shirts today that they probably wore while changing our diapers and holding our hands as we learned to walk. Sure, we love them for it. But whether you're quarantined with him wearing the same two shirts on rotation every week, or every time you FaceTime him, you know what he'll be wearing before he answers the phone, he needs to add some new items to his wardrobe rotation.

And you know dads — they'll feel guilted into using practically anything you were to give them. But these shirts are sure-fire ways to get him to switch up his wardrobe, and he'll be more than excited to wear each and every one of them. Plus, most of them are under twenty dollars, so no harm in dropping more than a couple in to your cart and letting Dad have his pick of his favorites.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Sat Down (Virtually) With Hollis Tuttle To Talk About Coronavirus's Impact On The Wellness Industry

Just because coronavirus has greatly impacted the wellness industry doesn't mean wellness stops.

If you're anything like me, your weekly fitness classes are a huge part of your routine. They keep me fit, healthy, and sane. Honestly, these classes help my mental health stay in tip-top shape just as much as they help my physical health.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, gyms and fitness studios are facing temporary closure. Yes, this means my personal routine is thrown a curveball, but this also means the wellness industry is one of many that is looking at unemployment and hardship. Do I miss my Monday spin class? Of course. But do the wellness professionals whose worlds were flipped upside down have a lot more to overcome than a slight change of routine? Absolutely. Thankfully, if anyone can prove the ultimate flexibility, it's the wellness industry.

Keep Reading... Show less
Swoon

My Boyfriend Has Changed Since Quarantine Began, And I Don't Know What To Do

"All he says is 'I love you,' which is great and all but OMG I can't get anything else out of him."

Each week Swoonie B will give her advice on anonymous topics submitted by readers. Want to Ask Swoonie B something related to dating and relationships? Fill out this form here — it's anonymous.

Dear Swoonie B,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost a year, which has been the best year of my life (as far as i know). Well we go to different schools and are both very involved in sports and school activities which makes it hard to see each other. During this quarantine it is especially hard. Since we haven't seen each other in over a week things are kind of tense. He won't really talk to me much and I always check in on him to make sure he is doing well and to just see how he is, ya know being a girlfriend. Well apparently that is driving him crazy and I don't understand how. I'm not being controling or clingy, i'm just checking in on him. While this is happening, I also have noticed how he just doesn't really care anymore. I'll leave him paragraphs of sweet love letters to wake up to and I encourage him throughout his day but I just don't get it in return. I love him with all of me and I obviously care about him a lot. Also, I've compared how he talked to me before all of this has happened. He was so sweet and caring, texting me a lot and telling me he loves me and just making sure everything is OK but he doesn't do that anymore. All he says is "I love you," which is great and all but OMG I can't get anything else out of him. He is a little stressed at home with trying to find another job to pay for his car, constantly having to do things for his mom, being responsible for his siblings, and managing school. I know thats a lot but im doing a lot too right now and going through a lot of the same stuff he is but It seems to me he just does not care and i don't know what to do. Please help me or give me some advice on what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do. Anything at this point will help. Thank you!

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "these are unprecedented times," I'd be rich. But that's because it's true!

Keep Reading... Show less
Tower 28

On paper, Amy Liu appears to be one of the most intimidating women in the beauty business. Not only did she launch her beauty marketing career at legendary Smashbox Cosmetics, she went on to lead luxury, high-end brands like Kate Somerville and Josie Maran — just to name a few.

But sitting down to meet Liu for the first time in an underground New York bar over a year ago felt like meeting a friend I'd known since childhood. As she walked into the bar in a chic red dress, it was impossible not to feel her immediate warm presence. When she talks about her history as an entrepreneur (and truly, at heart, she always was one), you don't get the sense that she's selling you anything, though with her impeccable taste, I'd use anything that had her glowing review attached to it.

Keep Reading... Show less

Sixth grade was the year that you were allowed to participate in a school sport. This was what my friends and I had all been waiting for since we started middle school. I had already made the cheer team with my friends, but I had to wait to start that in the winter since we cheered for basketball. I really wanted to have some sort of activity in the fall, but I did not know what to do. Somehow, I decided to run cross country. Not really sure how I decided on a sport where it was quite literally just running. A few of my friends were doing it as well, so I knew it was going to be fun.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Working Out Every Day During Quarantine Helps Me Feel A Sense Of Control

Physical activity helps my mental health in a world that feels uncertain.

Before the pandemic, I exercised a handful of times a week at best. In quarantine, I've been exercising every single day. I don't want this article to be another spiel about how exercise "changed my life," and all the other cliches that health gurus use to convince others to work out more. Rather, I want to reveal that exercise is a tool that works for me because it boosts my mental health when I feel like the world is spiraling out of control.

Keep Reading... Show less

To say that 2020 has been a bit of a roller coaster is an extreme understatement. Who knew that this decade was going to start off like THIS!? Not me, not you, and not that sweet old lady who lives down the street. One thing is certain though — while the world may be a mess right now, you can still fuel your body with food that keeps you happy and healthy. Thankfully, as we are all spending more time inside, you can get healthy snacks delivered straight to your front door! Amazon has never been more convenient (and tasty).

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments