August 21, 2011
Everyone has different authors or other cultural things that influence what they write. Some might be surprised to know that I don’t really read a lot of crime fiction. I have read all of Mark Billingham’s crime books and always liked the tone and atmosphere about them. I like Thorne as a character, although after watching the Sky television show can’t picture him as anyone other than David Morrissey (that isn’t a bad thing).
Aside from that tone, though, I think I have been influenced in a far greater way by comics.
Yes, I know “comics” is a dirty word because everyone assumes that means something for children but, the fact is, a lot of today’s popular culture has origins in one way or another connected to them.
There is the obvious glut of superhero movies that have come out in the past five years or so but there is so much more than that when you look at the people behind such cultural phenomenons as the TV show Lost. One of the head writers of that show, Damon Lindelof, has spoken about reading comics as he grew up and I think you can see that with the sheer number of “what the hell?” endings various episodes of that show had. I’m also a big fan of writers such as Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker, people whose work spans genres.
What comics have taught me is pacing. Every 22 pages or so, a comic ends and the writer wants you to buy the next issue. That means each issue, or “chapter” has to have that incentive and promise of more to come. For me, that’s everything. I want people to get to the end of a chapter and want to know what happens next. It’s not for me to say if I have been successful or not but that’s what I have tried for.
I grew up watching WWF/WWE wrestling and the format of that is as close to unique as I can think of. Once every four to six weeks, there is a pay-per-view event that costs around £15 in the UK or anything from $30-$50 in the USA. Each week there is a live television broadcast where the aim is to leave enough storylines hanging to make you want to watch the next week – and then invest your hard-earned money into paying for the pay-per-view.
When it is done well, I think you can learn big lessons about pacing from something like that. The whole business is built upon storytelling where everything builds to making you want to pay to watch something after being fed the first few ‘chapters’ of the storyline for free.
That doesn’t mean what I’ve written has anything to do with either comic book characters or wrestling because my stories aren’t. But, in some ways, that storytelling process is a little similar to what readers can have through their Kindle or iPad. You can read the first ten per cent for free and my aim as a writer is to make that first part as good as possible so that you are happy to pay to read the rest.