Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Major Influences (Or, How I Learned to Slay Vampires and Cast Spells)

I could spend several days and dozens of notebooks listing all of my influences as a writer.  And if you're anything like me, you're influenced by EVERYTHING - books, movies, television (I'd be lost without LOST), Wikipedia (where I found the inspiration for SHIFT), the woman I met in a Roman train station who is the basis for a major character in my trilogy - the list goes on and on.

But when it comes down to it, I can sum up the biggest influences on my writing in two words:

Buffy and Harry.

That might sound like a D-list Hollywood couple, but they're two characters near and dear to my heart - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter.

Buffy came first for me.  My husband had to coerce me into watching it (I was in my early twenties when it came out and remembered the awful movie that preceded it).  One episode in, I was hooked.  Joss Whedon had his finger on the pulse of what makes teenagers' hearts beat, but the show was executed in a way that everyone could relate to.  He captured the angst, the Sturm and Drang that we all experienced, not just as teenagers but throughout our lives.  And the characters grew and changed and failed and succeeded - they were living, breathing people that we cared deeply about.  Those relationships were the heart of the show; the demons were secondary.  I think that's the biggest thing I took away from the show as a writer of paranormal; you can have the coolest demon in the world, but if you don't care about the character who's battling it, it doesn't matter.

The Buffy-verse informs so much of the YA world.  I use it as a reference point constantly.  In the original version of SHIFT my mentor character was older, in his late thirties.  Then one of the notes I got from my editor was that she wanted me to make him young and hot.  Here's how that conversation went:
Me:  "See, I always imagined him as a Wesley type."
Editor:  "Yeah...we want him to be Angel."

Every Tuesday night for seven years Buffy gave me inspiration.  She lives on in my work, and will always be deeply ingrained in me as a major influence.

Two years after Buffy appeared, I discovered Harry.

I bought the first three books just before the fourth one came out.  I read them over and over until the midnight release party for GOBLET OF FIRE and then read all four books over and over until the fifth one...and then read those over and over...well, you get the idea.  I return to these books again and again and every time they are just as wonderful as the first time.

Why?  What is it about Harry?

J.K. Rowling touched something deep within every human being's psyche - the idea that, deep down, we are all extraordinary.  We may be lost in our daily lives; we may be poor orphan boys who are tormented by their spoiled cousin.  But one day, we will wake up and that extraordinary thing inside of us will be recognized.  One day, a half-giant will come and tell us that we are a wizard.

In my writing, I rely heavily on The Hero's Journey.  And Rowling is a master at it.  Not only does Harry complete the Journey in each individual book, he also has a larger Journey that spans all seven books.  Every book starts in his Ordinary World and ends with Harry Returning With the Elixir.  And then you look at the entire series and can track each step clearly throughout all the books as well.

And through it all, there is never a moment that we don't believe.  (I'm talking about the books here.  In the movies they have changed some things that I don't agree with.)  There is never a moment where we feel disconnected from Harry.  We suffer through the consequences of his mistakes (oh, Sirius!) and rejoice with his victories.  I've read PRISONER OF AZKABAN at least a dozen times and every single time I cry when Harry realizes that it was he himself who cast the Patronus charm on the banks of the lake. 

One of the other things I love about the series is that we can see Rowling growing as a writer with each book.  It's like she's maturing alongside Harry.  It's a good reminder that as artists we are constantly learning, expanding, evolving.

There will never be another Harry, just as there will never be another Buffy.  They both came to me at a time when I needed them.  Threads of their inspiration weave their way through my work, and will forever.

What about you?  What are some of your major influences?  And I challenge you to name another love story as beautiful and tormented as Buffy and Angel!


  1. Great post, Nicole! I feel like a mutant for having never watched Buffy, but it's referenced so many times by so many people I respect that I'm thinking I might have to check it out on Netflix. Do you think it will seem dated if one didn't watch it when it was originally aired?

    And I think Harry Potter has become part of the collective subconscious--I know he's always there in the back of my mind!

  2. Eve, Joss Whedon doesn't use a lot of pop culture references until later on in the series. The only thing dated are the clothes, hair, etc. But that's true with all tv shows. I mean, remember the first episodes of FRIENDS and how their styles changed every year? HAH!

  3. Yes!! I love that you work on Hero Journey paradigms, I do too!! And Harry is the perfect example of the classic epic hero, rags to riches, impoverished and beaten down to super-wizard saving the world. LOVE it, and can't wait to read Shift!!

  4. So funny that you referenced hero journey stages--I just picked up a newer copy of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

    Also, I feel bad for the Buffy Movie. I know there are massive amounts of hate for it, but I think it's ace (*cough* I even own the soundtrack and the novelization).

  5. There's a line in the Deathly Hallows that goes like this: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

    At that moment I felt like the writer J.K. Rowling was talking to Writer Me.

  6. Great post! I'm a huge Harry fan too!