There’s a page on my web site and it’s received some comments from people. It’s the page that shows some of the things that I read that go on to inspire me.
I haven’t put it up there to be an online brag book; all it shows you is that I have a current library card or an Amazon account. It’s more a case of explaining who I am as a writer based on who I am as a reader. I’m a voracious devourer of the written word; a T-Rex of books.
On that page, there are a lot of authors listed and these authors are different. They aren’t just a list of my favourite Christian authors (although I highly respect Ted Dekker, James L Rubart and Frank Peretti, among others).
What I’ve done is not just list who I read but why I like to read them and how they inspire me in my writing. I’m not a fan in the tradition sense. I’m not a fanboi; the type to camp out overnight to be first in line to get the latest version of Harry Potter’s 50 Shades of The Hunger Games and then head to Facebook to cyber-stalk my fave author by bombarding them with questions all the while hoping for the slightest acknowledgement. (Oh! My! Gosh! JK Rowling liked my post! O! M! G!)
What I do do is look beyond the writing to HOW they write and WHY they write as a way to develop my own craft. By no means do I adopt the personality or belief system of these authors; I don’t fall into lockstep with their worldview. I also don’t emulate them to become them.
Instead, I appreciate their talent and identify those parts of their writing that works for me as a reader. I then appropriate it for my personality and belief system, in so doing improving the way I write. They inspire me to reach a level beyond my current ability by being craftsmen (or craftswomen) in their chosen field and I believe that by modelling myself on them in certain ways, then my craft surely improves.
So, to start, I am inspired by the story concepts of Philip K Dick and Charlie Brooker.
You may find it odd that a guy who is writing Christian fiction would name an author with acknowledged mental health/drug issues and a very passionate atheist.
Stay with me.
Mr Dick was an author through the 1950s to 1970s in the science-fiction genre. A lot of his writing takes various tangents on the perception of reality. Some of his stories are like running through treacle; hard work. Much has been written about the impact of his enormous drug intake and how anyone with that amount of substance in their system would view reality anyway, but one thing I like is his approach to an idea. To start with a lateral question and build things from there.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (which became the movie Blade Runner) is based on many themes, including this one: what is it like to be human? Similarly, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (which became the movie Total Recall), is based on a lateral question; what would happen if you could buy memories?
I found these stories in reverse; I watched the movies first and was inspired by just how fresh and lateral they were.
That’s what I want to do with my Christian writing; to view a Christian story through a different lens; to provide entertainment as well as challenge and to have people react to a story rather than just sigh, put it on the nightstand and grab another book. I’m not looking to write Left Behind Part II.
I want to write about “what is church really about?” or “what would happen if reality TV and church clashed?” That became Pastor Swap. Or “what if your emotional baggage was real?” That became The Baggage Handler.
Secondly, I genuine respect the story concepts of Charlie Brooker. Mr Brooker can be very dark – that’s his schtick – so I’ll say right now I don’t like, or appreciate, some of his darker work. But there are story ideas he develops that are extraordinarily well crafted.
I wanted to particularly focus on one TV series he wrote: Black Mirror. I loved one particular episode – White Bear – in which a woman appears to be escaping captors until the payoff in the final scene that blows the whole concept out of the water by revealing what really went on. It compels you to watch it again. Then, with a second viewing, the story comes alive in a brand new way. It’s almost another story completely. There was another story buried inside the first, and it blew my mind in terms of how everything changed now that I had that extra piece of information revealed in the plot twist.
The structure of that type of story inspires me. A lot of energy goes into the plotting here, and the twist comes at just the right time.
That’s where I lean as a writer. I’m driven to not produce an easy out; to not have the plot visible to anyone who opens the pages and ensures readers come back for a second reading. I’m a pantser in a plotter’s body (more about that in a later blog post) but what Mr Brooker’s storytelling has done for me is show me how important it is to spend time and energy to ensure the story flows from start to conclusion.
So that’s me: who inspires you in terms of how they come up with story concepts?