Today I’d like to talk about some of the media that influenced me as I wrote my first book Forged in the Dawn. As I go, I’ll try to explain what aspects of the works I found especially refined and/or interesting, and how I tried to apply them to improve my own writing.
If you’ve ever read The Road or seen the film adaptation, then you understand how astoundingly bleak a world Cormac McCarthy paints. To me, the setting is as much a part of the story as the nameless characters of the father and son. The book tells a story of hardship and unrelenting despair, and even the ending is filled with as much sorrow as hope.
My original story idea was about a group of survivors making hard choices to survive in a similar environment. After some writing, it inevitably took a different direction though, and I ended up condensing the cast to focus the story on one main character while still trying to keep the same desperation in the setting to create plenty of conflict.
Children of Men
I have to confess, I’ve only ever seen the film adaptation of the novel, Children of Men, though it easily slides in to my top ten films of all time. Most of my favourite scenes were the ones completely without dialogue, when the viewer is left to take in the atmosphere of a desperate and hopeless London through their own lens. From the police’s dehumanising treatment of citizens, to the telling government adverts, the world is created without the need for tedious exposition.
If you have ten minutes, I recommend you take a look at this video which analyses the backgrounds used in the film – it will blow your mind as you begin to appreciate the depth of setting that is shown in ways you didn’t even realise was happening.
I tried to emulate some of this subtle world building in my own work, and I noticed it almost invariably boiled down to the old adage, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ I’ve come to find the phrase tedious by now, but it’s universal advice for a reason.
The Book of Eli
The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic action film which tells the story of a nomad on a journey to protect a mysterious book. The setting in this film is a visual and auditory masterclass. The opening sequence where the lone man trudges along a broken road full of rusted vehicles stayed with me for a reason I could never define.
The plot (while somewhat unbelievable, but hey, this is science fiction) is cohesive and tells a solid story with plenty of action and intrigue. Survival, lust for power, using religion as a tool – all themes I was influenced to explore in my own work.
Also to the film’s strength, most of the characters’ actions are believable because they are driven by their personal motivations and agendas. This may sound like an odd thing to say, but if you study a lot of fiction it becomes easy to spot characters who act inconsistently and shatter immersion. In writing my own characters, I tried to follow suit and give each their own set of characteristics, desires, and goals, so they weren’t just cardboard cut-outs, there merely to serve the protagonist.
So that’s the first part of my list, check back after the weekend when I’ll go over more of the media that influenced the writing of my first book Forged in the Dawn, releasing July 22nd on Amazon Kindle (it’s only been a few days and I’m already tired of repeating that).
Forged In The Dawn photo Copyright © 2016 Gavin Zanker
The Road photo is Public Domain
Children of Men photo by Hutson Hayward licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Book of Eli photo by Mike Petrucci licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.