Every year or so, I re-read Stephen King’s The Stand and Bag of Bones. King may not be master wordsmith or inspiration by your reckoning, but he is by mine. I love those books.
I don’t read these novels for enjoyment anymore, however; I read them to study King’s storytelling. King’s earthy writing style, memorable characters and pacing deeply resonate with me. Whenever I revisit those books, I’m reminded of why I love them so … and I read them closely, so I can shamelessly crib the best crafty bits from them for my own work.
I revisit the movie The Matrix for similar reasons. That is a movie with a concept so inventive and brainbending, and so masterfully executed, that I wish I could forget ever seeing it so I could see it again for the first time. I do my best to look past the style and spectacle and study its language—not just its well-crafted screenplay, but its imagery (which complements the narrative through visual symbolism, shorthand, etc.).
When time permits, I’ll dive back into TV shows such as Gilmore Girls, Babylon 5—even cheesy fare like Knight Rider—to pluck storytelling best practices that I can use in my fiction. Even our guilty pleasures have lessons to teach us …
even if it’s only what not to do.
I come from these visitations refreshed and inspired, with new insights (and sometimes jaw-dropping revelations) about these seemingly-familiar tales. For instance, the way King peels back the onion-layers of a character, while shoving that person further into the terrible Unknown. The remarkable narrative sleight of hand the Wachowskis use to deliver unexpected plot twists … and then elegantly and economically present new characters, worlds and conflicts. The verve of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue in Gilmore Girls, and how it always feels crisp and playful, like biting into a granny smith apple.
And I draw endless inspiration from the talking car in Knight Rider because talking cars are rad.
As 2014 draws to a close, now’s a good time to consider your own favorite “study” media—the stories that you return to again and again for creative inspiration, or insights into the craft. Revisiting some of those tales might rejuvenate you for all that writing you’ll be doing next year.
So, what are some of your favorite stories to revisit, to study? Let’s generate a thriving list in the comments for everyone to benefit from. Tell us what books, films, plays, etc. you study, and be sure to tell us why!