Thursday, March 28, 2013

Story Putty, Part I: Movies


In the U2 song, "The Fly," Bono wrote, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief."  For as much as some writers strive to create something original, something meaningful, it's nigh unto impossible to completely avoid the world's influence.  There are things that drive us to write, and the source of that can't help but leave an indelible mark upon every writer's moment of inspiration.

When I first started writing novels, I rejected the very notion of that artistic interdependency, and vowed never to pen anything but a wholly original story.  And what I first cranked out, The Ironwolf Chronicle, was the most derivative mash of other people's stories I could imagine.  It was part Xanth, part The Hobbit, part Star Wars and part Darkwalker on Moonshae.  Almost none of it was me.  Except… that it was.  All those stories were a part of me, I just hadn't found my voice.

Truth be told, I still struggle to find my voice.  On any given day, I get a dozen moments of inspiration, hate ten of them, rethink two of them, and ultimately settle on what I last decided to do (in this case, write Wrath of the Void Strider's sequel).  I still hear the whispers of my favorite books, TV shows and movies, but now I embrace them.  There are good reasons why I like those stories, why they inspire me.  Combined with my own life's adventures, tragedies, triumphs and struggles, I like to think it brings life to my characters and the settings they find themselves in.

Below, I have listed my top ten most inspirational movies and why.  Down the line, I'll post books and TV series, but for now… ACTION!

10. Aliens - Starring Sigourney Weaver, this sequel to the original scifi horror classic, Alien, showed me how to set a mood.  The way the tension built, the way the action played out…  It also taught me the importance of not getting attached to minor and supporting characters.  The alien queen was an awesome, terrifying villain, and the loader mech made a permanent impression.  Not that anyone will ever read it, but the original version of Wrath of the Void Strider had its own weaponized loader mech scene on the surface of Nerthus.

9. The Dark Crystal - Jim Henson's fantasy masterpiece, this was the first movie I remember seeing that had a great twist at the end.  With all the fantastic life on screen, it opened my mind to thoughts of alien plants, animals, as well as a truly epic struggles.  With memorable environmental characters like Aughra and the Pod People, and with the terrifying Garthim (for a wee lad of 7, anyway), this movie couldn't help but influence my world building.

8. Krull - Part scifi and part fantasy, this movie at first puzzled me.  It maintained a high degree of fantasy, but there were blasters and spaceships, and the antagonists were alien invaders with a teleporting castle.  I distinctly remembered the cyclops's sacrifice, and the sad interaction with the Widow of the Web.  It showed me that genre lines can be blurred, and that you can call a magical weapon whatever you want to, even if it's not actually a glaive. :P

7. Star Trek II - I guess a lot of movies made a big impression on me when I was 7.  HA!  Well, here's another one from 1982.  Star Trek II was bigger than life for me.  Khan was SO villainous, though I found myself sympathizing with him.  Kirk was so bold, so heroic…  And I cried at a movie for the first time I can remember when Spock died.  This movie taught me the value of sacrifice, the strength of friendship, and the power of love.

6. The Princess Bride - Let's jump ahead five years to S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of Romance and Adventure, by William Goldman.  Each one of the characters was so memorable, the humor dry and timeless, and it had the best sword fight on screen, to date.  It taught me that things aren't always what they seem, and every hero should have something he's willing to die for.

5. The Neverending Story - What a fantastic movie!  I shamelessly love Falcor and the music to this day.  Through this movie, I experienced terror at the sight of the cooked knight near the Southern Oracle, and I startled when Atreyu saw Bastion.  The Childlike Empress seemed so beautiful, and I cried when Fantasia had been consumed by the Nothing.  It showed me how low the lows can go, and how great the triumph can be after losing everything.  Plus, Engywook and Urgl…

4. Willow - Madmartigan made such a huge impression on me.  He was as capable a swordsman as Aragorn, but with the bravado of Han Solo.  This was a *fun* movie, with a great villain, an unlikely hero trying to master arcane arts, an oppressive totalitarian government that needed to be overthrown, and a Death Star… er, two-headed dragon.  Wait…  OK, so it was much like a fantasy version of Star Wars.  Also, that love could overcome allegiances was a powerful lesson to me at the time, as in the romance that grew between Sorsha and Madmartigan.  And the music…  if any of my books ever make it to the big screen (and if I have any say in it), James Horner, I'm looking at you…

3. The Original Star Wars Trilogy - I'm treating Episodes IV through VI as a single unit, as A New Hope came out when I was 2, and the first memories I have of watching any of them was viewing IV and V on tape at my Godbrother's house a week before Jedi came out.  Star Wars was Sci-fantasy done perfectly.  It influenced me in so many ways, as it has many writers of our time, and it freed me up to throw magic into my scifi.  Gavin can induce space folding, because why not?  Yoda can lift up a space ship with his mind, so…

2. Serenity - The movie conclusion to the Firefly TV series.  I know not everyone's a Browncoat, but that's only because you're Alliance scum.  The gritty voice, the oppressive government, the inhuman reavers…  Joss created a modern classic that challenged his viewers to think about what life might actually be like on colonial worlds, the sort of support and infrastructure that might really be available, and the monstrous toll trying to control such a vast interstellar population might take on a far-reaching government.  Book's and Wash's deaths had impact, but I think if the series had been given more of a chance to grow, their deaths would have had more meaning.  It taught me that it's OK to outthink your foes, and that if you can't do something smart… do something right.

1. Star Trek (2009) - In terms of Shadow Galactic, I list this as the most influential movie, because it showed me the value of a strong crew culture, of bravery, of sacrifice, and how much I value all the main characters surviving at the end.  It was thrilling, epic, action-packed and character-driven.  It embodies all the strengths I strive to capture and convey in my writing.

So there you have it.  All the voices rattling around inside my head, shouting over my muse and shaping my stories.  If nothing else, I hope this list serves as a reminder of great movies you've already seen, or maybe will inspire you to watch the ones that are new to you.

Thanks for reading!

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