So I’ve talked about things that inspire my writing rather frequently. It’s the sort of thing that blogs are for. Usually it’s when I mention my Shelf of Honor. That’s the small little shelf that lives near my bed with my all time favorite books on it. Scott Lynch, Roger Zelazny, Thorne Smith, Cherie Priest and so on and so on. Today, I’m not here to talk about the Shelf of Honor.
I’m here to talk about all the other stuff that inspires my writing.
See, we’re all not just writers, we’re storytellers. There are a lot of ways to tell a story, but there are certain things that are true across all mediums. I think this attitude comes from all those years I spent in film school. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses. Film is better at motion than print. Video games have a leg up on immersion. Television (when it’s given enough episodes) has the benefit of time to go in different directions. Print excels at getting inside a character’s head. I think someone writing for any medium can learn from the best of the others
So what else out there influences my own writing? Keep reading, I’m getting there.
This one is almost a no-brainer among anyone who plays video games. BioWare, the company behind the Mass Effect series, has become known for the stories in their games. Having one continuous story span across three games still comes off as innovative to me even though the games have been around a while. The story is so very extensive it’s like the amped up version of a Choose You’re Own Adventure. Specifically, I prefer the second game out of the trilogy because A) it has the most story and B) it’s still a video game and has better gameplay than the first one. The opening montage in ME2 floors me even though I know exactly what’s about to happen. The best stories are the ones that get that reaction out of you even after the first time you’ve experienced it. The fact that it happens to a character I had just played dozens of hours with in a previous game really builds a connection to the player just to use that connection to manipulate the hell out of you.
The kicker to Mass Effect is there is very good tie in media. I’ve got one of the novels and a couple of the comics. It keeps the story going even away from the Xbox.
Exo-Squad was a cartoon from the 90s and I very distinctly remember watching it every day when I got home from middle school. This was the first cartoon that I had ever seen that had a serious story and didn’t just assume cartoons was “kiddie” stuff. Keep in mind, this was, not only before anime went mainstream, but before anime had even grown to niche status. (The first anime I saw is a completely different story courtesy of WPIX from NYC and the earliest days of Sci-Fi Channel) In the years since, I’ve heard Exo-Squad described as an American Anime. It was one continuous storyline spanning years across a large cast of characters. There were consequences felt from one episode to the next and there was no status quo to return to at the end of the show. It dealt with serious issues of fate, racism and slavery on a backdrop of a solar system spanning war. And military robot suits. Don’t forget the military robot suits. Spoiler alert… this is also the first time I ever saw a cartoon that killed off a character. (Also, boo! it was my favorite one) When I was 12, this gobsmacked me. I loved this show so much, after learning Dungeons and Dragons (2nd ed! THACO represent!), I worked with one of my friends to make a tabletop RPG on Exo-Squad because I wanted to be a part of that story.
I’ve watched episodes of it since and it still holds up.
Hey, I went to film school, of course I’m going to add some movies in on this. Ronin is hands down one of my favorite films of all time. I wrote my thesis on this. I’ve seen it dozens upon dozens of times. One of the hallmarks of director John Frankenheimer, is kinetic motion and sound used in his storytelling. The director was a pioneer in the mechanics of filming a car chase back in the 60s. For a film called Grand Prix, he was the first person to strap a camera on the front bumper of a race car. Frankenheimer spent decades honing the skill of telling a story with cars in motion. Ronin has the best car chase of all time in it. Seriously. Take seven minutes of your life and watch it right now. I’ll wait. That scene tells a story without using a single word. You can close your eyes and listen to each car and know what each is doing. One of my goals with my writing is to pull off that same kinetic motion in print. I don’t know if I can ever pull it off. Car chases are something more suited to film than print, but I’m sure going to try. I am specifically putting a car chase into the novel in progress. Writing with such energy and movement is not easy to do. It’s not done very often. Myke Cole has pulled it off. Tobias Buckell too.
I wrote a whole blog post on how Defiance is the future of storytelling. Season two has upped their game since they’ve worked out some of the new show wrinkles. Anything I say here will be reiterating what I said back when I first wrote about it. Media crossovers aren’t that’s new. Dungeons and Dragons has been doing it for decades. Star Wars too. Those were all made of movies, games and print, but in the end, each item was a seperate piece of storytelling. It may have a common setting or referenced others in the world, but each piece still stood on its own. Defiance has leveled up the way storytellers have integrated television and video games. I can fire up my PlayStation and shoot hellbugs with Nolan and Irisa and run with Rynn after she escaped from prison. Then I can see them all live their lives on the SyFy channel. This is something that I think Defiance will pave the way for, especially as they refine their version of the craft. I hope they hit the point where they can dip into other mediums as well such as print and comics the way Mass Effect did.
Clone Wars is my current Netflix obsession. I never watched the show during it’s first run because of all that sprawl and continuous storyline, I didn’t want to just jump right in. Netflix is actually the best way to watch a show like this. Which is good because Netflix’s selection of actual movies tends to suck. This may be nerd sacrilage, but Clone Wars justifies the existence of the Star Wars prequels. The storytelling is just that good. It is everything the prequels wish they could be. Except for Jar Jar. He still shows up. Those parts do suck. This series has a lot of heft to it. It’s able to go places that the prequels never had the time to (yet tried to anyways). This show takes a page from Hitchcock. He said (paraphrasing the hell out of this, but most film school nerds know it) if you show a scene of two characters talking and a bomb explodes, you have only one moment of emotion from the audience. If you show the bomb with a big countdown on it first, then let the two characters talk, you have an entire scene of emotions.
That’s what Clone Wars has been doing for me when I watch it. We know Palpatine isn’t just some benign politicion. We know what happens to Anakin. You can pick up on some pretty dark hints with Anakin because we know he becomes Vader. Those aren’t just nerdy little in-jokes. That’s deft storytelling. They took our expectations and are playing a long con with them.