What shall I write about today? Well, I couldn’t come up with anything on my own, so I asked my Twitter followers if they had any questions or suggestions for me. I know that seems rather lazy, but when in Rome…
I received some good responses, and I would love to use them over the next several posts, but one question really struck a chord with me. My good Twitter friend, and hilarious wordsmith Denis Shaughnessy (@denishaughnessy) sent this response: “It’s said that writers need to read. Can you give a specific example of how your writing has been influenced by reading?” That is a very deep, thought-provoking question and originally I shied away because it sounded too much like a homework assignment (No offense, Denis). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could be fun so brace yourselves as I share my writing influences with you now.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a moderately successful writer named John Grisham. He has written a handful of books, some of which became movies, and has achieved slightly more success than I have thus far. He also had a profound impact on my writing. I’ve read many of his novels, but my favorite Grisham novel is “The Firm”. I find the story to be extremely compelling, but what I loved the most was that main characters never knew whom to trust. People were spying on them and chasing them, and they had to find ways to outsmart folks on both sides of the law. I enjoy reading a book or watching a TV show or movie when you aren’t sure whom to trust and you really aren’t sure who’s a villain and who’s a good guy. All of those concepts found their way into my novel “A Confession of Faith”.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a moderately successful writer from named Michael Connelly. He has written a handful of books, some of which became movies and TV shows, and has achieved slightly more success than I have thus far. He also had a profound impact on my writing. While Connelly is adept at building suspense, I really admire his plotting. He ends chapters on what I call “mini-cliffhangers”, and he also keeps things hidden from his readers until the time is right. I borrowed one of his techniques in “A Confession of Faith” when I ended a chapter by saying that my protagonist (Faith) had a revelation about another character and she just needed a way to prove it. Rather than explaining her plan, I kept my readers in the dark until the next chapter in which they watched the plan unfold. This method compels the reader to continue to the next chapter and it maintains the suspense as they are left in the dark until they discover what Faith’s revelation was all about.
“The Last Jedi” inspired me to take risks with my writing and take my story in directions my reader is not likely to predict. I work hard to keep my reader off balance and endeavor to take them for a ride they will never expect. When I’m writing I often think to myself, “What would the reader expect next?” and I go in the opposite direction.
I know Rian Johnson is a film writer/director, but I was greatly influenced by “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. This film was well-received by critics, but many Star Wars fans railed against it because it didn’t follow the typical Star Wars formula and it took risks. Those are precisely the things that resonated with me. It was one of the few movies I have seen when I truly did not know what was going to happen next. It didn’t follow a traditional formula and (gasp!) several of the characters actually failed along the way. Not all of these risks worked for me, but overall I loved the movie and I enjoyed the experience of watching it.
Writers of “Breaking Bad” & “Better Call Saul”
These are two of my favorite shows, but I really get great advice on writing from the accompanying Podcasts. The show runners often talk about their approach to writing, and I have learned a lot from them about trusting the audience and refraining from spoon-feeding them information. I also learned that the story does not come from me…the story comes from the needs of the characters and the story dictates where it should go. As writers, we must put ourselves in the heads of our characters and let them take us on their journey with them. These writers also taught me how fun and challenging it is to put our characters in impossible situations and let them figure out how to get out of it. It’s rough on us and our characters to write this way, but it’s extremely rewarding to the writer, and it leads to a reading experience that our readers will enjoy.
One of these things is not like the others. What in the world is a humor columnist doing on a list with suspense writers? I’ve read countless Dave Barry columns and books, and he excels at crafting his words in such a way that the prose itself is entertaining. Even if there isn’t a lot of action taking place, a book or article can still be entertaining because the writing itself is entertaining. Barry has a way of making any topic enjoyable just with his writing style, and that is a skill that I try to duplicate in my writing. Not to sound like a kiss up, but the gentleman who inspired this blog post is very similar to Dave Barry, and I enjoy his writing as well.
So Denis, there you have it…a veritable smorgasbord of writing styles and genres that float around in my head and out of my fingertips. I appreciate your question and I appreciate everybody who took the time to read this post.
What about you? Who are some of your influences? Please leave a comment below and let us know who inspires you (besides me).