Friday, February 5, 2010

Frankly, My Dear...

I've been watching a lot of TV lately, and it's gotten me started thinking about how media influences my writing. I mean, every time you see an amazing movie, something about it may resonate with you, may make you say, "I want to write something like that." Or it may even be less obvious, like the way a certain character talks, or a specific car that someone drives, or even a simple plot idea that you think up a neat twist on.

I think anyone would agree that nothing is original. Give two people an identical plot, and you're going to get two completely different books. Everyone processes visual, aural, olfactoral (think I made that word up) and tactile information differently, right? How we perceive things is influenced by our culture, our upbringing, our religion, our politics, our sexuality--essentially everything that makes us us. So it goes without saying that anything we in turn produce is colored by our particular world-view. That's why I can read a dozen different paranormal romance novels about a human female and vampire male becoming lovers, but they're all different. This is not new information, of course; people talk about this all the time.

I guess I'm tongue-in-cheek advocating taking inspiration from what you love without shame. Musicians do it, right? How many guitarists name Jimi Hendrix as their idol? And how many of those guitarists incorporate elements of that Hendrix style into their own playing? It's got their spin on it, of course: it's their fingers playing the chords, their brains processing the information, but the influence remains the same. The pattern is still there being copied.

How about YA novels? They're quite the rage lately, aren't they? And why do you think that is? Sure, lots of people, myself included, enjoy writing for that age range, but I bet if some of those authors were being completely honest, if you asked them what influenced their ideas, they'd cite pop culture references. Twilight is everywhere I turn around, and unfortunately some people seem to think that Stephenie Meyer invented the idea of pasty wallflower girl falls for big, mysterious vampire against her better judgment, so now whenever a new book comes out with a similar pattern, they immediately cry foul.

So this is me, taking a stand for media influence. I watch a lot of TV, folks: I've been home on worker's comp for 5 months, and trust me, the TV becomes a good friend after a while. That means I've seen all kinds of strange and good programming, and just like with real-life experiences, I firmly believe that you can take something worthwhile from any TV program that you watch (except maybe Jersey Shore.)

I'll use some example from my own personal tastes and what elements of these shows have influenced my own writing:

Criminal Minds: suspense, teamwork, dark human psyche; I like the way Spencer Reid, eidetic supernerd, talks because of his memory, so I blended that with some of the unsubs who've had OCD to create the personalized speech patterns of one of my characters. I also like Morgan's easy sexiness and Garcia's unabashed geekdom. No direct correlation to my writing as of yet, but I'm storing it away for future reference.

Rome: wow. If you haven't seen this show and have a high tolerance for...well, everything graphic, then GO! Run to the nearest store and BUY IT! It is amazing. Politics. Sexual maneuvering. And violence. Yes, I learned some fight moves that I would never have been able to dream up on my own...and I can't wait to incorporate them. Also, I really appreciated one of the main characters' moral ambiguity and have flavored my MMC with a bit of that.

Supernatural: well, besides the obvious pairing of two incredibly hot guys...hello, it's a show about my favorite thing! Not only am I getting valuable information about urban legends, but the chemistry between those two brothers is wonderful. Oh, and ladies: if you'd like some insight into good male banter, this show has it! Plus delicious eye candy AND one of the most badass cars on television.

Grey's Anatomy: um, yeah. I've been with Grey's from day one, and though I've sworn up and down more times than I can count that I'm DONE, FINISHED, that was the LAST episode I'll EVER watch...somehow I always tune in the next Thursday. Why? Characters. I am addicted to finding out what's going to happen with those characters. I don't always like them, but I always love them. I love Alex's anger and tenderness, Cristina's drive and vulnerability, Bailey's determination and empathy... Even if the show is dramaculous, you have to admit that those are some compelling characters. If they've kept ME coming back for 5 years now, then there's definitely something there. I can only hope to write characters that are half as compelling...

Modern Family/Arrested Development/Cougar Town/30 Rock/The Office: ah, the 20-minute comedies. Now, I like to think I'm fairly funny in person, but putting humor into my writing is something that takes practice. I'm not entirely sure how much watching these shows helps, with perhaps the exception of AD--most of the humor is fairly situational and requires the visual element. Maybe that's why I watch so many of them--the more humor I pound into my brain, the more I'm hoping will stick.


I could probably go on, but I think I've made my point by now. Do I blatantly plagiarize these shows? Of course not. And I like to think that if you read my stuff, you'd probably not even be able to point out where the influences are coming from, but this is me admitting it, and me encouragining you to admit it. And it's not just TV, of course: movies, plays, commercials, even--they all play a part.

And if admitting this makes me seem like less of a writer, well...frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.


How about you? Anything like this that you're willing to admit is a big influence?

7 comments:

Madeleine said...

I'm going to become addicted to your blog. Post away, please!

Anyway, at my house, there's always a TV on, and when you're following app. 8 different series, you're inspired/influenced by a whole lot.

Characters, as you said before, are really bits and pieces of a bunch of different people thrown in with a tiny bit of individuality, but the odd combination of traits makes them seem completely new, fresh, and ready to be called their own person. I have the feeling my characters are influenced by TV/movie/etc. characters more than I've realized.

And I KNOW I get plenty of ideas from minor details in individual episodes...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Influences come from all sources. And you're right, there's nothing new under the sun as far as storylines. It's all how we as writers bring on our spin to the tale.
And I promise I won't be writing about pasty girls and vampires anytime soon...

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome said...

I have been on a TV kick as well. It comes and goes. Sometimes I just want to watch movies...for hours. Then I'll be on a reading kick and that's all I'll do for weeks. Most days, I find the balance between all these things.

I have no doubts my writing is influenced by what I see, read, smell, ponder...

And I love your blog.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome said...

@Alex, I think as a writing exercise, you should try and write a story about pasty girls and vampires. Or pasty boys and the vampire women who love them. :)

Tiana Lei said...

This is SO TRUE!! I hate it when people look down their noses on an idea that they think is unoriginal, because really, we all have influences. I wonder why it's ok for music and not for writing? Interesting. I would say that I'm influenced a lot by almost any book I read. And as for TV, well, all those sappy chic flicks really have a way of coloring my writing :)

chasing empty pavements said...

*"I mean, every time you see an amazing movie, something about it may resonate with you, may make you say, "I want to write something like that."*

You said exactly what I've been going through! I also have been with Grey's since the beginning and sometimes I feel more intune with the characters of the show than I do with my own friends. The way they seep into our imagination and take hold is great inspiration for a writer, and I think it very much influences the way we write.

Falen said...

oooh we recently started watching supernatural - spot on!
I find i most often get inspired by a character, or a specific character moment - ie, the villain has a moment of moral behavior, and i find that interesting and want to use a moment like that in one of my pieces