Fancy yourself a writer? Have a novel or two in the works? Maybe you’ve finished a half dozen short stories. Proud of each finished project and new idea. Yet there is a bit of shame when the more bibliophilic friends or fellow writers ask,”What author or book inspired your love for the genre,” and you answer, “Uh, movies.”
During several panels at writer and reader conferences I’ve attended in recent years I notice the conversation about writing and books is communicated through the vernacular of movies. A panel on ghost stories talked more about Hammer films and classic monster movies than gothic writers. At another conference a panel on spies and soldiers drifted quickly to good portrayals of warriors on film, rather than bringing forward great examples in print. It is not that we all don’t read or know the authors of today or yesterday, but for some reason we are creatures that find it easier to communicate through movies.
So, it’s OK to become a writer of novels and short stories after a lifetime of watching and dissecting movies. Embrace how you got to this creative point, keep reading and looking for new authors, but remain true to how you got here. That is by watching movies. Yet if you feel a bit skittish about film as inspiration, perhaps its time to seek a new level of inspiration in film.
A few more thoughts on movies as authorial inspiration:
Sometimes we come to genre late: Its perfectly acceptable to come to the bookish end of your favored genre later. Movies are often the easier to consume forms of entertainment when we are in our formative creative stages. Growing up I read less than some bookish friend, confining reading to comic books or pulpy science fiction. My ideas and tutelage on narrative, characters and scene construction were informed by movies. Film is story telling too, perhaps burdened by the stigma of celluloid mass-market, and not something to be looked down by “authors.”
Find a Director: Directors may not write the films you love, but they have a role that is often editorial and always creator of the visuals in storytelling. When I go to the movies a good portion of my discretionary entertainment income I tend to go for the director. When you find a director, see how he or she uses a color pallet or sound design to further their story. Those can be your inspiration cues. Michael Mann’s The Keep, while flawed, is classic modern gothic war-time movie making. Mann also painted a vibrant and beautiful story in his Last of the Mohicans; while his use of blues and cold tones aided in his crime masterpiece, Heat. Opposite Mann but equally creative is John Carpenter, a horror auteur who understand speculative fiction on film better than director. His The Thing and The Fog, as well as the overlooked Prince of Darkness, position Carpenter as a classic inspiration of mine.
Color Pallet and Sound: When watching movies, you may register the tight scripting or great acting, but you subconsciously absorb everything else. For me I make a concious effort to notice the color pallet and sound used by a director. In Mann’s Mohicans amber and earth tones bring the wild to life. In Heat steel, black and blue colors create a cool, precise world. Bring that new appreciate for color to your work and see where it takes you. Same for sound in film, crunch, crackle and gristle often have more of an impact than we appreciate. Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and listen to the sound effects and design for a feast of sounds. Analyze those sounds, express them in your own words and perhaps your next story will have a new brisance and energy.
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