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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

Using TV and movie characters for inspiration

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember, and a love for writing developed at an early age as well. But along with the written word, I've also always been a fan of visual entertainment in the form of TV programs and movies as well. I LOVE going to the movie theater and watching a story unfold on the big screen while I munch away on the nachos I don't really need. As I became more serious about writing novels, I found that my viewing habits often inspired my writing. Of course I would never copy an idea wholesale, but something as simple as a character trait or a wide shot of a scene can get the creative juices flowing and send your writer's brain off in interesting new directions.

So let's look at several aspects of creating a novel, including the all-important characters, and see how stories from the small and silver screens can help you in the writing process.

1. Plot -- You've all likely heard of high concept. Even though it's discussed at writers' conferences as something to shoot for in our books, the examples used to illustrate it are often movies or TV shows. For example, the movie 10 Things I Hate About You could be described as The Taming of the Shrew set in a modern American high school. Fellow Noodler Colleen Gleason's Gardella Vampire Chronicles could be described as Buffy the Vampire Slayer set in Regency England. One of my YA novels was inspired by watching an entire summer of Buffy and Supernatural. The novel isn't a copy of either, but elements of each show got my synapses to firing and allowed me to create a totally new concept.

2. Character -- Out of Sight, my novel that is a finalist in the currently under way American Title contest, was partially inspired by the X-Men movies. The heroine has a unique ability, one that could be used against her if she falls into the wrong hands and one that she wants to keep hidden. But that ability leads her to a higher calling than she'd ever planned. Another aspect of character that can be inspired by TV or movie viewing is the physical appearance of your characters. I have a fat file folder full of clipped magazine photos of actors and actresses who I can use as the inspiration for characters in my books. In Out of Sight, I envision my heroine as looking like Michelle Ryan, TV's new Bionic Woman.

3. Setting -- I watched a lot of westerns when I was growing up and still really enjoy them. Not surprising then that my first manuscript was a western, an Oregon Trail story. Even when I started writing contemporary romance, I used some of those wide-open spaces of the American West as backdrops. In fact, my first published YA novel (Heartbreak River, Spring 2009) are set in the rugged mountains of Colorado.

Do TV shows and movies inspire your writing? If so, how? I'd love to hear your stories.


At 10:05 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

My first book started out as private fan fiction about Data, the android in Star Trek. At some point, I realized I had strayed from the path and created my own story. That was the start of my book-length writing bug.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Starting when I was a child, I used to make up stories in my head to fall asleep at night. They were always inspired by my latest TV or movie heartthrob and were, like fan fiction, spun in that world. Now, of course, I'm spinning my own story in my head before going to sleep, but I realize this habit was what helped me develop story-telling skills.

I keep a computer file of images, mostly photos of actors and actresses, to inspire my characters. I've also found a couple of modelling sites that serve this purpose as well.

I think it is a great idea to use what is popular now (or what has been popular throughout time) to inspire your book. Why not build on what has already been a success?

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Esri, fan fiction about Data -- what a hoot.

Diane, that's interesting about the modeling sites. Care to share the URLs? I used to do that spinning tales in my head about the latest teen heartthrob when I was younger. My imaginary dating life was much better than the real thing. :)

I think those of us who become writers subconsciously are drawn to the storytelling in shows and movies when we're young. I think we're soaking up the natural flows of stories and how characters are built while those who aren't destined to become writers are maybe just able to sit back and enjoy the programs without analyzing, either consciously or subconsciously.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Kate Diamond said...

Fan fiction about Data? Hurray! For me, it was "Anne of Green Gables" knock-offs.

I love watching movies, and they really help me with my big writing hitch: plotting. (If you've never read Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat," I highly recommend it.)

At the moment, I'm into using movie promo taglines as novel starters. For instance: "Sometimes What You're Looking For Is Right Where You Left It." (Sweet Home Alabama)

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Great topic. I love the movies and probably watch more TV than is good for me. I haven't had it generate ideas for me yet. I sometimes get ideas from nonfiction history books, such as something I came across that mentioned a farmer during the War of 1812 offered the British his daughter, so they wouldn't destroy his property. I haven't done anything with that yet, but the factoid set my imagination going.

Diane, I still make up stories in my head to fall asleep, too!

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Kate, using movie promo lines as story starters is a great idea. And I just heard the line you quoted in the voice of that guy who does all the movie trailers. :)

Maureen, what a cool story idea -- even if it wasn't cool for the poor daughter. Yikes.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I'm usually thinking of my story as I drift off, too.

I don't think I have had a story idea stem from the movies or t.v., either (maybe subconsciously?), but I LOVE watching movies and I definitely analyze them and watch for all the needed elements as it plays out. Sometimes I see a movie and wish I had thought of that plot idea!

Congrats on making it to the final two in the American Title Contest, Trish! That is awesome and I loved reading your romantic scene.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Here are the urls of Model agencies that I found to help me picture my characters.

Models 1 Agency

Gilla Roos agency (Ben Whitaker, the cover model for A Reputable Rake is in this one)

Here's a fun one for secondary characters:
Ordinary People

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Thanks, Theresa. And thanks, Diane, for the URLs.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Misque Writer said...

This has got to be the silliest "fan fiction" ever. When I was little, I watched "Masada" with my mom. I really liked the exotic setting and fancy costumes, but I hated the ending. I wrote my first "novel" (scribbles on folded paper with staples in the middle) by taking the story of Masada and giving it a happy ending.

Of course, later I realized the story didn't quite work like that. But I never lost my preference for happy endings!

At 9:15 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Misque, I loved that movie. It inspired me to read everything I could about the actual event. I even named one of my rescued dogs Masada.

I have always written stories in my head, especially at night to help me nod off. I am SO glad to hear I am not alone in this. For a while I thought I was a little nuts.

Actually I have 12 chapters of a novel that I wrote as a fanfic of a soap opera I loved at the time. I set the soap opera in Regency England. Like Esri I soon came to realize I was actually writing my own story. I fully intend to go back to it one day.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Misque and O Doggy One, I wrote a whole book in my head about a young girl and a cabin boy whose brief shipboard romance gives them the courage to make something of their lives.

And (just like Nora Roberts) one snowy winter when schools were closed for several days, I sat down and wrote a contemporary romance that started out with the death of a child. Of course, look what happened to Nora.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I got my start writing Highlander fan fiction. But before that, I 'head wrote' Star Trek, MacGyver, Magnum PI. I think having the characters already developed gives a beginner a way to learn the craft without having to do it all from scractch.

Eventually, I needed to know if I could write something totally made up, and that's where my first novel came from.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

misque writer, I think lots of us have probably rewritten stories to give them happy endings. I do the same thing in my head for movies when I don't like the endings.

doglady, a soap opera in Regency England. Sounds high concept to me.

Terry, that is a good observation about having the fictional characters already in place giving beginning writers to learn the other aspects of craft. And I remember loving Highlander -- the TV series with Adrian Paul. I hear he's going to be at RT this year.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Misque Writer said...

Hm, I never thought of it that way, but maybe that is why so many writers start with fan fiction. You don't have to do everything from scratch -- worldbuilding, characters, plot. You can steal the world and introduce your own characters, or transport familiar characters into another setting, and so on.

I also have a Trek novel which I wrote when I was 14. I reread it recently. Oh, my goodness. I'm so glad I never embarressed myself sending it anywhere! But it WAS good practice.


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