Saturday, June 15, 2019

Writing Night at the Movies

Novel Spaces is celebrating its 10th anniversary! To celebrate, we're sharing some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published October 11, 2010. Enjoy!

By Charles Gramlich

I don’t often talk about movies. I’m not a big movie buff. I haven’t been to a theater to see a film since Lord of the Rings. I probably average ten or less movie rentals a year through PPV, although I do watch movies when they finally come out on TV, and I rewatch movies that I like when they show up on the little screen. However, we live in the age of video imagery and I haven’t escaped its influence. I’m amazed sometimes at how many movies I have seen. And my writing has definitely been affected. Here are some movies that I like very much, and a bit about how they’ve influenced my writing. (Thanks to Scott for the inspiration for this post.)

1. Once Upon a Time in the West: Sergio Leone’s greatest work, even if it didn’t feature Clint Eastwood. Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson were superb. The staging of this movie, the dramatic way in which the scenes were set and the stark landscapes, helped establish the way I visually stage story scenes in my mind. The dusters worn by “Cheyenne’s” men in this movie were a direct influence on the rawhide coats that the bird riders of Talera wear. Lines from the film such as: “You brought two too many,” “Just a man,” and “An ancient race” have influenced the way I structure dialogue. This is my favorite movie of all time.

2. The Thing: I’m referring here to the John Carpenter version, which is my favorite horror movie. (Even the novelization by Alan Dean Foster was thrilling.) This film certainly wasn’t the first to create a sense of claustrophobic horror, but it did it very well. And it also had a great ensemble cast of characters who responded to the horror in wonderfully realistic ways, from their physical actions to their dialogue. This film was certainly an influence on my desire to create ensemble casts for my horror fiction and get them to act like real people facing absolute terror. This was part of what I wanted to do in Cold in the Light, and in that book I often used the night and the woods to create the claustrophobia.

3. Alien: My second favorite horror movie, and it is definitely horror even if it is set in an SF universe. The “chest burster” scene is, to me, the most effective scene ever caught on film. The “alien” is still the coolest alien ever. This one also had the claustrophobic element and the ensemble cast. And it had a strong female lead character, which I’ve tried several times to achieve myself, without great success, I’m afraid. It also had the “ringer,” the one member of the ensemble who turns out not to be what he seems to be. This is a great device for a writer and one I’ve used several times, particularly in Witch of Talera.

4. The Thirteenth Warrior: My favorite fantasy movie of all time. I also thought the book upon which the movie was based was very good. That book was Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. The gritty realistic feel to this movie contrasted strongly with the more “fantasy” feel of such movies as Conan the Barbarian. Instead of it reminding you of “an age undreamed of,” it made you feel as if every instant was absolutely real. I want to achieve that kind of realism in my fantasy. I want my readers to feel the dirt under their nails and the biting tang of blood in their nostrils. The dialogue here was also extremely good and created a sense of drama that I believe fantasy fiction needs.

5. Predator: A reader remarked a number of years back that the Warkind in Cold in the Light reminded him of the “Predator.” I know the “Predator” did influence the development of the Warkind, although there are also many other elements that went into those creatures. In part because I was curious about the nature of the “Predator,” I created an extensive background and social structure for the Warkind.

There are many other movies that have had some level of influence on my work, though certainly nowhere near the level that books themselves have influenced me. Some of these other films would be: The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Hearts and Armor, Conan the Barbarian, Jurassic Park, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Wars.

How about you? Have movies influenced you? In your writing? In other aspects of your life? If so, which movies? What’s your favorite?

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