My Top Picks – Part One

What are my biggest influences? There are too many to cover in one post. So over the next few weeks I will be covering off on some of the key books, movies, music and shows that have influenced me, not only as a writer, but as a person.

 

The Lord of the Rings:

I will begin with the most obvious of choices. This covers both the books and the movies. I am not sorry to admit that I did not read the novels until after I’d already seen the first movie. Prior to that most of the fantasy novels I read were written by authors like Feist, Eddings and Weis and Hickman. But after watching Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring I found a new obsession.

To me the trilogy of movies summarise the Fantasy genre. It is a visual delight with set pieces and landscapes that make you wish you were born a hobbit. You have heroes and villains, elves, orcs and dwarves, battles, magic and political drama. In every sense it covers the things that make so many fantasy works what they are. The names are amazing, the characters strong. The story is one of good and evil with human drama and emotion the real focus. There is so much to learn from it.

Were it not for the movies it would have been many more years before I read the actual books. And, had that been the case, it would have been a lot longer before I decided to become a writer. But thankfully I picked up the trilogy and never looked back.

Many argue about how exciting the Lord of the Rings trilogy is. I love the books, but even I admit that there are parts where you feel like you are scraping nails against a blackboard. However I look at it as a foundation from which so much modern fantasy came. There are plenty of books which are better, but would those authors have been able to write those books without the inspiration and grounding that Tolkien provided? I don’t believe so.

Thus I attribute much of my desire to write epic fantasy to the Lord of the Rings. The writing is in every sense magical. There are lines from the books and films that make the hairs on my body prickle when I hear them. Scenes in the movies stir emotions in me that real world events fail to. I listen to the soundtracks when I write, for they throw images of Rivendell, Lothlorien and Minas Tirith into my mind. I can’t explain why, but I feel I have more of my own emotions invested in middle earth than in our earth. And I don’t regret it one bit.

 

Remember the Titans:

From an obvious choice to one less so. Everyone loves a good triumph over adversity story. Sport is one of the best mediums for it. I watched the mighty ducks and cool runnings as a kid. Practically everyone my age did. But the one movie that has stuck with me is Remember the Titans. I consider the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to be outside of the normal catalogue of movies. They are an enigma of nerd royalty which would always win a competition for best movie. As such, taking them out of the running, I would name Titan’s my favourite movie of all time. It’s a big call, I know.

I have watched this movie countless times now. Every single time I am amazed at how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is for me. I swing from laughing, to shaking my head, to almost fist pumping in ecstasy as the movie plays out. At one point I almost struggle to hold back tears alongside the two main characters. Every time! For a movie to captivate me like that, it is doing something very right.

I have taken a lot from this movie with me in my journey to become a writer. The drama in my writing is heavily influenced by the character interactions in Remember the Titans. The varied cast of characters, though in many ways following established tropes, reminds me of what the right mix of personalities is. When I seek to place humour into my work I often think back to the lines in this movie which crack me up every time.

Most of all I am reminded that sometimes all you really need is an inspirational ending. I won’t necessarily put an inspirational ending in my own writing. But as soon as the credits roll on this movie I feel the desire to get to my keyboard and start typing. And the value of that can never be played down.

Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks.

Have you seen that Movie? It totally sucked!

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many movies or TV episodes have let you down? It seems to be an ongoing trend at the moment. I am constantly hearing from friends, or reading online that people are disappointed with something they have watched. It has grown to such a state that I am beginning to wonder if it is a result of the ‘critical’ society that the internet has spawned in the last decade. It is cool to rag on a movie these days, Or to talk about how terrible a TV show is. I’ve even had conversations with people about a movie to have them complain about how bad it was, later to found out they haven’t even watched it. They simply jumped on the rolling band wagon started by an internet troll in a basement somewhere.

The crumbling state of society aside for a moment, I was having a long discussion about this with some individuals who agree that expectations are the killing factor. And expectations keep rising. Movies from the past, which have become cultural hits, are now being remade or receiving sequels, prequels and re-imaginings, at an alarming rate. (Original thought is a thing of the past you know!) As a result we are flocking to the theatres (People still do this yes?) or the internet, in order to see the next instalment.

The Hobbit is a great current example. The Lord of the Rings was accepted by most to be a fantastic adaptation and top quality set of films. However the Hobbit has seen a significant amount of criticism, especially by nerd fandom. When I spoke with individuals who complained about the Hobbit I asked them to explain their dislike. They did so and, but for some valid points, much of it seemed to me to brew down to, “but the LOTR’s was so much better in the way it did…” I then asked them, what if the LOTR’s movies were never made? What if you couldn’t compare this movie to them?

Star wars is another great example. We could argue for a long, long time about what they did wrong with the star wars prequels, but I often ask people to think about how they would feel about the three prequels if they had never seen the original saga? Jar Jar binks aside, would you give them a better rating? Would you be less critical of Hayden Christiansen’s acting? (Mark Hamill’s was just as bad really.)

Surely one of the best things about art is the fact that it is subjective and that people like to critique it. I just feel that it has become more socially ‘Cool’ to badmouth something than to say, I loved it! It is also easy to say that something sucked when you weren’t the one who made it. If you gave 99% of the people who complain about a movie the same training, budget and capacity to remake it, they would likely make something utterly unwatchable. And I feel for the people making these shows. At the end of the day one harsh word will have a greater influence on them than ten good ones.

I wonder what it would be like if, rather than foster a culture of disapproval, the internet bred a culture of talking about what we liked about these films. It would be a strange world indeed.  

 

Give us more Red Weddings!

blood

One could not even begin count the collective gasps and jaws that dropped upon watching the infamous ‘Red Wedding’. As soon as the episode had finished, social media and the internet were ablaze with comments ranging from outrage to hilarity to anguish and everything in between. Over 5 million individuals in the US watched this particular episode as it aired on HBO, and millions more watched it around the world thereafter. The response was universal. “That didn’t just happen!”

Even those who had read the books before watching the show watched on with wide eyes, mesmerised and horrified by an intensely graphic depiction of a famed literary event. And though so many people cried out in anger, the Red Wedding only drew more people in to watch the next episode and read George R R Martin’s books.

It is a little bit of schadenfreude that draws us to continue to watch and read or is it a futile hope that somehow things will turn out for the best. It could be that society has shifted its taste in literature and media to allow for the more debased and extreme elements of life. One only needs to look at the most popular television shows of the last few years. Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, the Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire show us over the top violence, sex, drug and alcohol abuse and general indecency. Yet they do so with gripping storytelling, and we love them.

The current trend in television is towards the long story arc that leaves a viewer hanging for more at the end of each episode. And viewers are now so saturated with content that they are seeking new thrills. We are all searching for the next high. The Red Wedding was essentially an overdose and now everyone is waiting for that next hit.

So what does this mean for the writers out there? What is the true power of killing off a main character? Does writing need to adapt to the changing marketplace, or is this a fad that will work its way out over time? My answer is write what you feel will help you best tell the story. We should not need to turn to extreme violence and sex to sell, but if that helps you to convey your message in the best possible manner then do not shy away from using them.

Shock and awe is a powerful creative tool but must be used with care. Give us more Red Weddings but don’t make them the norm. Sometimes the tried and tested formulas are the way to go. Why? because they are tried and tested. And I ask all those writers out there currently plotting their next story, when you do choose to include that jaw dropping event, provide a warning to all those out there with heart conditions. Not everyone has the constitution to survive such a scene.