This week I’m returning – not before time – to the answers from the SCREENWRITING SURVEY from my blog way back in June. This week it’s the first half of your fascinating responses to the question –
What novel (not just in the last year) has inspired your screenwriting and your writing generally and why?
‘I found Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up inspired my writing immensely. It is a novel that combines a large-scale political story, with a number of shorter-scale stories in a way that shows how grand political narratives impact on everyday lives. It also helped me see that any grand gestures I want to make with my writing will be more effective if they are part of a story that readers/viewers find too compelling to turn off.’
‘Steven King’s ‘Carrie’ started me on a journey of comparing movies to books and enabled me to visualise the two mediums side by side. The newer version of ‘thirteen ghosts’. Being able to get free script pdf’s helped me to visualise the script to screen process which in turn empowered me to give it a shot.’
‘The novels I love best are so well written they can do nothing but direct me towards writing screenplays, as my prose could never be as brilliant. Midnight’s Children both inspired and killed my literary ambition. So I will choose The Beauty of Murder by AK Benedict, a recent first novel, a mash of gothic whodunit and SF. So inspirational that I just have to adapt it for screen!’
‘My favorite novel of all times is “Jane Eyre,” because I love strong passionate characters. I love those types of characters that will keep you so involved reading that you do not care about what page of the book you are in or whatever happens outside the scope of the plot, you just want to keep reading.’
‘FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, visual, universal appeal.’
‘Apparently a trope in my writing is the idea of regular people being dragged/called into extraordinary situations. I think this has a lot to do with a youth spent reading any comics I could get my hand on. As I’ve ‘grown up’ it has also clearly affected my literature choices. I’m a big Cormac McCarthy fan. I find his protagonists three dimensional and full of conflict and I enjoy seeing where the choices they make take them. I think that’s all part of the fun.’
‘I have to confess to indulging myself in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I have a hero in my story who would be more like Biggles or Foyle or Miss Fisher if it were not for Lee Child’s hero.’
‘Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein’s Carnegie Medal shortlisted novel for Young Adults proved, like Mal Peet’s Tamar before it, that there’s a market and desire for intelligent YA literature. It also suggests that there’s a niche for stories set during World War Two and as I’m writing such a tale that’s particularly gratifying, even if Wein used two ideas that I now have to cut from my manuscript. The Carnegie is awarded by Librarians so has some previous for supporting difficult work, but the ‘Shadowing’ project, where schools and libraries encouraged children to review and vote on the shortlist demonstrates where the consumers are quite nicely. While not every child could work the book out, most of them were okay with that possibility and those that did felt extra specially bright and satisfied with themselves. This convinced me that I need to write my book as it comes and to trust my instincts and experience as a children’s writer to know where the hidden line of incomprehensibility lies. Write the book, Matt and worry less.’
‘1984 – George Orwell. It shows that you can make big ideas entertaining. Although it’s not a bundle of laughs, 1984 is very readable and one feels fully invested in the characters. The big ideas do not overshadow the fact that it is a novel, not a political treatise.’
‘Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Words convey ideas. When those same words convey action by the pattern of its placement, then words breathe. Ex. Factory worker: Day 1. Stands before conveyer belt, grabs parts, assembles, goes home. Day 2. Stands before conveyor best, grabs parts, assembles, goes home…’
‘Laurie Lee’s “Cider with Rosie” was the most evocative book I read in my formative years. It was so vivid that I was transported in to another world with all the sights, smells and sounds to authenticate that. It created a movie in my mind. Transporting someone to another place and another time is an incredible skill. Laurie Lee is greatly responsible for giving me the desire to develop that ability.’
‘Last night I picked up a newspaper and was saddened to read the obituary of Richard Matheson. I read his novel I Am Legend a few years ago and was absolutely blown away. The obvious accolades go to his expert handling of the horror / sci-fi genre (all you need to know is that Stephen King cites the book as his major influence).’
‘A really tricky one, as I love to read (and any writer should read if they want to get any kind of idea as to what works). I love John Irving’s work, and that of Marcel Pagnol, but if I were to choose one novel, it would be Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’ – I studied it when I was 18 and it has stuck with me ever since. The antagonist is an external force, and the story features each character’s battle with it, as well as their own battles with elements of their lives (lost love, struggles with authority, intolerance of dogma). Everyone should read it and, more importantly, learn from it.’
‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time’
‘Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is a constant inspiration to me, for the simple reason that no matter how daunting the blank page in front of me looks, I know that if I sit down for a set number of hours and force myself to sweat something on that page, it will, at the very least, be better than anything Dan Brown has written in his life. The dreadfulness of Brown’s prose, the flatness of his characters, and the random preposterousness of his plots, which read like a badly written travelogue through the mind of a conspiracy theorist, is a beacon for writers everywhere. I believe the moment when you decide to become a writer is not when you say to yourself “I wish I could be as good as that” (after reading, say, Cormac McCarthy or JG Ballard) but when you say “I can do better than that” (after reading Brown or James Patterson).’
‘Catcher in the Rye: If there ever was a book that seemed to be about nothing, but gave you everything, it’s this. No explosions, just life with character.’
‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, a trilogy by Patrick Hamilton is a huge inspiration to me. The three novels perfectly capture the disappointment of life in the beautiful, heartbreaking inner lives of the three main characters.’
‘I’m going to stretch the premise of your question and nominate The Ballad of Halo Jones, a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. First published in weekly science fiction anthology comic 2000AD, this stunning story is actually three serials which demonstrate the rich variety of storytelling and characterisation that can be found within SF. The central character Halo Jones is iconic in her ordinariness, while the supporting cast linger long after reading.’
‘Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre – This wonderfully dark world populated with grotesques definitely ignited something in me as a writer. The freshness and humour of the author’s voice whilst dealing with the subject of a teenage boy held responsible for a high school massacre in Texas remains with me years after reading. All manner of small town American dead-beats want a piece of Vernon and to use him as their sacrificial lamb. This novel taught me, above all, that you can never stop throwing enough shit at your protagonist.’
‘The Third Man, Graham Greene’s slightly odd mongrel of novella and long treatment. Written as part of developing the film with Korda, it’s opened up a way of getting deeper into characters and the truth of a story before I get to script pages, rather than falling back on the para-screenwriting industry tropes as a default. They have their place, but I’ve found myself grabbing for them instead of working harder to find a better story.’
‘Nabokov’s Lolita – I love the way the language is so luxuriant, like poetry. And getting inside the head of the lead character is a tortuous and yet undeniable pleasure. My own script – Desire – I think is probably the closest influenced script with regard to Lolita. It took me a year to write and I did literally bin the first draft. (Have to start marketing this script.)’
‘Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, was the book that returned my love for reading and that inspired me back then and continues to do so. Recently I would admit that George R R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series has given me plenty of enjoyment. It is a complex world full of flawed and troubled characters. The scale and depth of it are what I find inspiring.’
‘The project I am currently working on, an epic science fiction show in the like of Battlestar Galactica, was largely inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In short, what interested me in Asimov’s work was the idea of exploring world politics and more importantly human relations on a global scale through science fiction. I think that Asimov proposes, in very few words (his novels being rarely more than 200 page long), an in-depth exploration of our inherent conflicted and conflicting nature. But more than that, he explores how the foundations of democracy itself, our undeniable belief in the individual and its freedom as root of all positive political systems, can be interrogated through science fiction. My current work not only somewhat stems from the same place, but also tries to see how some of our current political events, the rise of religious extremism and the roots of popular rebellion can be linked to Western forced conceptions of democracy and how this can itself interrogate the nature of democracy itself.
Additionally, I would have to include in the list Yasmina Khadra’s “The Attack” as a large source of inspiration in that it deals with the state of mind required for one to become a terrorist and that is one of the aspects that my current work wishes to explore, that is, how can one embrace religious extremism and what kind of biographical events lead one to such a choice.’
‘Murakami’s 1Q84 is mesmerizing, and as a screenwriter, very interesting because it is so visual. The narrative is blurred and you lose yourself in the Japanese setting, but you are still compelled to read on and follow the fated lovers. I still remember key scenes throughout the book vividly after over a year since I finished the books — which I guess is any writer’s dream.
I am a somewhat moralistic writer so Kurt Vonnegut has always been an inspiration, with how he made entertaining and compelling stories with clear and important messages at their hearts.’
‘Junk. It got me inspired as it was the first time I read something that was so raw, and open and honest that it got me really interested in telling stories and reading stories that weren’t just with happy endings.’
Once again – thank you so much for all these excellent, insightful answers – part two of your answers to this question to follow next week.
All the best
September 27th 2013