Movies, TV Shows, and Books that Have Most Influenced My Writing
Whether we like it or not, all art is influenced by something we've already seen before. Sometimes writers make conscious choices to reiterate what we've seen in our favorite movies, or we borrow a literary technique from a fellow writer; other times we've seen something so many times, we don't even realize how much it's become a part of us--how much it's shaped how we see the world.
I've been writing for a long time, so I thought it'd be interesting to sit down and really think about the kind of entertainment that's shaped my own art.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This list would not be complete without this book. It took me a while to get into it initially, but I think I like gothic stories more than I realize. I love stories surrounding the family, their dysfunction, their poor decisions, and their brokenness. I also love the gloomy, foreboding tone of the whole thing. It's got a huge cast of characters who are delicately intertwined, and we get to hear from most of them, but we hear from them through the lens of one character, whose story is being told through the lens of yet another character. This framing technique makes us feel like we're listening to a ghost story at bedtime, and I'm with obsessed this storytelling choice. It's both distanced and intimate. Surreal and visceral.
Despite coming out in 2004, I didn't watch it until ten years later, soon after my high school years had waned. As someone who was bullied by the mean girls in middle school and high school, this felt like salve for the wounds and certainly gave me a good laugh. I love the edgy humor. It's so shockingly on point, if not a little over the top, that it hits me square in the soul. Tina Fey really knows what it feels like.
These movies are my favorite of all time, and I watched them endlessly as a kid. Looking back, I'm able to discern what was so good about them. The characters are well-rounded and the dialogue is realistic in a way that reveals to us the personalities of the characters. The plot is organized and compelling. It hits all the right beats (well, at least the original trilogy does).
Friday Night Lights
I binge-watched this one my senior year of high school and I have zero regrets. It's so good because it's complex, moving, and everybody is broken. Coach Taylor and his wife Tammy are, despite their flaws and shortcomings, great parents and mentors to the kids in Dillon Texas.
Without this show, my Texas-set novel would not be the same. I learned all about southern culture and dialect, and really got a feel for the atmosphere.
I was already a sucker for the 1980s, but this show made me a horror fan. It's scary without being outrageously horrific and disturbing. The plot surprises us at every turn, but the characters are at the heart of the story, and we see growth from most of the characters as the show progresses.
It may or may not have strongly influenced the book I'm writing now.
That Summer by Sarah Dessen
I read this when I was in college I think, and it hit a spot deep within me like no book ever had--ironic, considering this 1996 novel is not considered Dessen's greatest. Doubly ironic is that I've never managed to get into her other books. What's unique about it is that it's got some depth. It tackles real teen problems like romance and divorcing parents. Dessen didn't shy away from heartbreak or disappointment. I also think I read it at the exact right time in my life.
I also distinctly remember learning from Dessen how to disperse description with dialogue on a sentence-by-sentence level. I found it a compelling and extremely effective way of properly pacing out scenes. For some reason, it was something I paid attention to as I read, and I certainly find myself mimicking her writing style to this day.
Boy Meets World
My brother showed me this show when I was twelve years old and I haven't been the same since. It's been my all-time favorite show for twelve years now, and I still laugh at every episode like it's the first time I"m seeing it. I still get sucked in whenever anyone's watching it at home. I still love the 1990s and would jump at any chance to travel back in time to live through them again (only as a person a little older than I actually was so I can remember more than a memory or two). There's no humanly way this show hasn't influenced my writing.
"What's your damage, Heather?"
Ah. The dialogue in this movie is amazing. This is one of the most disturbing movies I've ever watched, which usually isn't my style, but there's something about this movie that I can't look away from. Maybe because it's the darker, deadlier '80s predecessor to Mean Girls. Maybe it's because I can't get enough of Winona Ryder, who's a phenomenal actress. Maybe it's all the shoulder pads, which I desperately wish would come back in style. Who knows?
High School Musical
High School Musical is very arguably the reason I got into YA in the first place. It came out when I was about ten, and I think what I loved about it was the high school setting. It may have set my expectations too high for what high school would be like, but hey, we can fantasize about having a secret talent for singing and then getting cast with the cutest, most popular boy in school, right? Especially when he climbs your balcony just to sing you an apologetic song for saying that the whole theatre thing was dumb because he started to care too much about what his jock friends thought (ahem, Chad).
Yeah, boys haven't come like that since Troy Bolton, but I can at least write about them and pretend like they exist in real life. Maybe it'll be the start of something new.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
I was a little disappointed by the movies, but I adore the books. In addition to being sweet and heartfelt, the series was a great example of a low concept story. Everyone seems to be pushing for high-stakes, fast-paced, high concept books these days, but Lara Lean needs none of that. Jenny Han's readers are perfectly content about reading about her protagonist baking Korean food, hanging out with Chris in her bedroom, and dressing up as Cho Chang from Harry Potter. There isn't much of a plot going on, except the love triangle between LJ, Peter, and Josh (yes, if you've read the books, you'd actually know Josh reciprocated Lara Jean's feelings; not sure why they cut that out of the movie), but it's enough to keep readers invested.
You know what the trick is? A catchy hook. Lara Jean writes letters to all the boys she's ever loved, they mysteriously get mailed out, and chaos ensues. With a premise like that, how could you not want to know what happens?
This is important for me because I tend to be a character-oriented, low-concept writer. Jenny Han gave me a great example of how to do it right.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is another one of my favorite class books. I listened to the audiobook version a couple years ago and was reminded of how incredible Fitzgerald's prose is. People don't write like this anymore, but reading classic literature seems to restore a few brain cells.
I also love it because almost everyone in the book sucks. Everyone has questionable ethics, and it comes back to bite them at the end. It's a story about the dangers of immorality, and this theme has always propped up my own writing.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
That's all I can utter whenever this book or movie crosses my mind. It's not an ugh of annoyance, but an ugh of aw. There's something so wistful about this movie (I'll dare to say the movie is better than the book) that I really would like to capture in my writing. The book was written in the late 1990s and set in the early 1990s, but it really has that feeling of timelessness. So does the movie.
That, I believe, is what's so enchanting about it. It's the universal teen experience. It could happen to anyone, any time, any place. That feeling is something I try to capture in my own writing. I care more about touching on universal themes than I do paying homage to popular songs and incorporating popular slang at the time I'm writing it. Whenever I can, I leave out pop culture references and chose vague details about technology because I don't want my books to feel dated. I want them to feel infinite.