Every writer has something that opens every floodgate and releases images and words in torrents. A song, a drink, an exercise, a person.
For me, it’s movies.
Certain movies become anthems. They scour me down to essentials: I become an instrument, nothing more than the story that’s unfolding inside me, spilling from my fingers faster than I can type. They strip everything else away. Food, sleep, other people all lose their importance. The movie drives the story, and the story becomes the entirety of my world.
I’m almost afraid to tell you which movies have done this. Just remember that no matter how the critics panned it, no matter how many folks thought it was the most ridiculous bit of Hollywood schlock ever to hit the big screen, it somehow tickled the Muse. And when the Muse gets tickled, all choice I have gets definistrated.
(That’s thrown right out the bloody window, for you non-sesquipadaleans in the audience.)
One of those movies was MI:2. Seriously. Yes, even with Tom fucking Cruise. Remember, it was right before he went completely batshit insane. I lost count of how many times I saw it in the theater. It came out right as I was halfway through Trinity, the only novel I’ve ever actually finished, and something about it just screamed Adrian Sykes, the anti-hero star. For weeks, I had a specific routine: I’d see MI:2 every couple of days, and I wrote. That movie, coupled with the Highlander episodes starring Methos, drove the story to completion. Highlander, I can at least explain: Adrian comes from the same part of England as Peter Wingfield, the actor who plays Methos, so there was the accent to consider. There was also the fact that I first heard Adrian speaking to me because of Highlander. But I still to this day don’t know exactly what it was about MI:2 that released the flood. Adrian’s nothing like Ethan Hunt, and the book is really nothing like a Mission: Impossible story. But there we were, and what else could I do but what the Muse demanded?
(And yes, in case you’re wondering by now: inspiration is an awful lot like insanity. Thanks for asking.)
Lord of the Rings should be a no-brainer. And yes, I saw it more than MI:2. But not as many times as the group of high school kids in their elf costumes. That trilogy is something I try to watch at least once a year, because it gets me into epic storytelling mode. It knocked the breath from my body when I first saw it. It was precisely what I wanted to accomplish: the myth, the meaning, the sweep and scope, the rich detail…. So I don’t have elves, Hobbits, wizards, or any of that sort o’ thing. What I’ve got is worlds as beautiful, stories that dive as deep into the huge questions of good, evil and fellowship. Those movies taught me something important: slow down. The story can move along just fine even if you’re travelling down a few scenic routes rather than flying along the freeway. And fantasy worlds need to be so complete.
Batman Begins is my theme movie for the book I’m preparing to write now. I think you’ll understand when you meet the main character, which you should soon, because I plan to have it complete by the end of next year. Christian Bale’s Batman is absolutely him. Although no, he doesn’t dress up in costumes and fight supervillains. It’s the darkness they share.
Dark Knight is going to take me in a whole new direction.
You see, movies spark ideas. And what this movie has shown me is exactly how much work I’ve got cut out for me, making my Big Bad truly terrifying. It’s gotten me to thinking about adversaries you can’t fathom, desperation on unimaginable scales, evil you just can’t overcome. I’ve been struggling with that for years. I’ve read books on evil, and all of it falls so short of what I know that evil would be. Satan? A buffoon, a rank amateur, compared to my main evil guy. Think of every terror you’ve ever had, every bad guy who left you shitting yourself in terror, and magnify that by a trillion. Somehow, that’s how Sha’daal has to come across – and yet, seductively elegant, understated, nothing at all what you’d expect. The dichotomy between world-destroying acts and a soft-spoken being drives me absolutely nuts. But I think Dark Knight will allow me to achieve the proper mood with him and the destruction he leaves in his wake.
(And no, he’ll be absolutely nothing like the Joker. I’m not that obvious. Look, people who read Trinity didn’t even realize the inspiration had been provided by MI:2. And I’m getting rid of the stupid Highlander in-jokes that crept in when I do the re-write.)
What Dark Knight does for me is helps me to feel what my characters are going through as their entire world comes toppling down around them. And I needed to feel that. I caught a glimmer of it in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, when the Cylons destroy the colonies: but this is so much darker. It makes the destruction of the colonies look like a bad day at Disneyland.
If I can make Dark Knight look like a really bad day at Disneyland, I’ll have accomplished what I set out to do. And then it’s off to intensive therapy for me: a few months of Pirates of the Caribbean, coupled with massive amounts of rum, should bring me back from the utter darkness again.
Until the next time we have to slide beneath the waves…