When I tell people that I’m a YA fantasy author, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is “Where do you find your inspiration?” I’m asked it often enough that I usually have to suppress some sort of groan. Not because it’s a dumb question (I’m certainly interested in other people’s creative processes, too!), but rather because there is NO simple answer and to try to sum it all up in a few sentences is IMPOSSIBLE.
Usually, I opt just to say “Music—like, movie scores and classical music.” And while that’s true (all of my novels have super-detailed playlists that are essentially an outline in music form), I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking lately about where my inspiration comes from—and music isn’t the sole source. (Though that seems kinda obvious, right?)
Like most writers, my creativity ebbs and flows. I have some months where I write, write, write and can’t even bother to eat/clean/sleep because I’m so immersed in the story clawing its way out of me. Then I also have months where the idea of sitting down at my desk is PAINFUL, and I hide from my writing by burying myself in TV shows or movies or books or ANYTHING other than writing.
For a while, I’d face those off-periods by listening to the same music that’s always inspired me, by watching fantasy films and reading fantasy books. And while those things definitely ignite some kind of creative spark, I’ve recently found that watching movies or TV shows that are COMPLETELY out of my usual creative vein is just as rejuvenating—and educational. There’s something about seeing storytelling done in another, more visual form that makes me start thinking of my own writing/stories from a different angle—and often helps me sort out some of the issues that got me stuck in the first place.
So, I figured I’d share some of those NON-fantasy/sci-fi movies and TV shows that have inspired me in some way or another, and helped get my creative juices flowing. I’d seriously recommend watching any of the films/shows listed—aside from their writing uses, they’re all fabulously entertaining.
Attack The Block: Okay, so I’m cheating a little with this one because there are aliens in this so it’s kinda SF/F, BUT this wasn’t really a “big” film in the US and most people haven’t heard of it, so…yeah. This movie is a GENIUS bit of storytelling and characterization. I rented it one night and wound up watching it TWICE before I had to return it the following day. It’s particularly clever because you initially effing HATE the protagonists (inner city gang members) and hope they get eaten by the aliens—and then by the end of the film, you find yourself rooting for them (and weeping…but that may just be me). The way the characters are established as common thugs and then slowly humanized—layer by layer—is really some of the best character-building I’ve seen EVER, either in film or in literature. Not to mention the way the character-building is visually echoed. Seriously, I wish I could write the YA version of this film.
Gone With the Wind: Perhaps my #1 non-fantasy/sci-fi favorite movie. Watch it for Scarlett’s characterization/arc alone, but stay for the sweeping plot, amazing costumes, and…Rhett Butler. Seriously, set aside one Saturday and just WATCH IT.
Marie Antoinette: It’s visually stunning (seriously, it’s ridiculously gorgeous). Confession: I was initially really, really jarred by the combination of a period piece with such modern music. But then I watched it a second time, and then a third time, and…now it’s one of those movies that inspires me to think outside of the box just because it’s so bold and unique and different.
Fright Night (the remake): Oh, this film. (Okay, so it has vampires, so it’s kindaaa fantasy, but still…). I honestly would tell ANYONE to watch it, writer or not. I made my BFFer & fellow Pub Crawler, Susan Dennard, watch it, and look at what SHE wound up saying. This movie is an awesome, awesome blend of stellar characterization, comedy, and horror (seriously, even if you don’t have horror elements in your novel, you should pay attention to how they establish and build upon the tension). And you want to learn how to make your antagonist believable? Just watch Colin Farrell’s performance as Jerry—he’s multifaceted, utterly creepy, and hilarious. Also: if you DO have action and/or horror in your novel, I’d recommend it just to get ideas for how to do it realistically and accessibly.
Jaws: Another horror film, but…it’s probably had as big an impact on me as Gone With The Wind. The #1 lesson I’ve taken to heart from this movie? The Shark is scarier WITHOUT seeing him. You don’t need to have a man-eating monster in your book to learn from that. (I caught War Of The Worlds on TV this weekend, and had this belief reaffirmed—the aliens stop being threatening/scary as soon as you see them. Leaving things to the imagination can sometimes be way more petrifying.) Plus, you want to talk about character-building? Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis remains one of the most chill-inducing and powerful bits of character histories I’ve ever seen in my LIFE.
- Midnight in Paris
- The Hours
- My Fair Lady
- Casino Royale
- The Descendants
- The Damned United
- Blood Diamond
- Amelie (rec from Susan)
- The Descent
- Pride & Prejudice (ALL THE VERSIONS)
- A Room With a View (Also from Susan!)
- Bend It Like Beckham
- Rudy (seriously, you will WEEP)
- The Goonies. Yes, The Goonies
Veronica Mars: I fell in love with this series in the first FIVE minutes of Episode 1. Moved to tears and just…utterly smitten. If anything, watch the first episode. It’s great at establishing the status quo, the stakes, character histories and motivations, and has twists galore! And if you want to learn something about how to write SIZZLING romantic chemistry, then just watch/observe how the romance is handled in the series. Really, VM is one of the most under-appreciated and brilliant shows ever.
Downton Abbey: You’re probably already watching this, but Downton Abbey an awesome blend of characterization, elegant (and beautiful!) world-building, and plot-weaving. If you’re writing a story with a large cast of characters, DA is definitely worth checking out—every single one of the characters on this show (however important or minor) feels like a REAL person. Plus, the way all of the romance is handled is just…lovely.
Revenge: It’s just…fabulous. Dark and twisty and full of secrets and despicable, love-to-hate characters and high stakes. And the structure of the series (it begins with a murder scene, then jumps back several months, so we follow along as it builds up to the truth behind the fateful event) is definitely worth studying.
Rome: Oh, this show only lasted two seasons, but they packed in SO MUCH, and it STILL remains one of my all-time favorite TV series. Thinking about the season 1 final STILL makes me teary-eyed. Great characters, intricate plotting, and brutal stakes. Absolutely incredible.
Friday Night Lights: Just watch it. Period.
- The Inbetweeners
- The Good Wife
- How I Met Your Mother
- The Big Bang Theory
- Arrested Development
- Freaks and Geeks
So, you tell me: are there any films or TV series that are OUTSIDE of your usual writing genre that inspire YOU?
In honor of all these awesome movies, I’m doing a contest! Enter below to win a DVD of ONE of the following movies (US Only, sorry!!): Jaws, Marie Antoinette, Fright Night, Amelie, or Attack the Block! OR, if none of those float your boat, you can instead choose to receive a $20 Amazon giftcard to buy the movie of your choice!