Friday, October 19, 2007


Getting Writing Inspiration from TV and Movies
by Trish Milburn

I admit it. I hate it when I hear someone call television the “idiot box.” Um, I like TV. Does that make me an idiot? Far from it. In fact, I am a big believer in writers (writing being one type of creative form) gaining inspiration from TV programs and movies (two other types of creative forms). I have proof in the form of my manuscript, Coven, which won the Golden Heart in the Young Adult category this year. Let’s go back in time a bit...

I call the months of June and July 2006 my Summer of Buffy. Why, you ask? Well, I was in the serious writer pits. I’d been writing a long time, submitting for several years, adding rejections to the file in my filing cabinet at about the rate I was adding gray hairs to my head. The weeks were counting down to another RWA National Conference that I would likely be attending as an unpublished author. Was it time to face the fact that selling a book just wasn’t in the cards for me? Was I supposed to be doing something else, something besides beating my head against the wall? Add to this the fact that I got sick with some type of crud, and moving from the bed to the couch was the highlight of each day. A friend loaned me the first couple of seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. I’d heard about this show and its characters endlessly at writers’ conferences, but I’d never seen it. Time to figure out what all the hoopla was about. Besides, it’d help get me through the summer.

Imagine my surprise when those two seasons didn’t last more than a few days and I was hitting up my friend for more seasons. I was a woman possessed with the need to know what happened next. Seriously, I was watching eight to ten episodes a day. When I finished all seven seasons of Buffy, I moved on to the five seasons of Angel, then the first season of Supernatural. And while I was lounging away on the couch crying for Buffy and Angel and eagerly anticipating the start of the second season of Supernatural that fall, my excitement for writing was building in the back of my mind. By the end of the summer, I had an idea for a paranormal YA percolating in my mind. The excitement kept building and didn’t wane as I started to write what would become Coven, not even at the point that should have been the sagging middle. Because of the inspiration I got from watching TV, I’d regained the joy of writing and actually pulled myself out of my funk. That’s pretty powerful if you ask me.

I, of course, don’t lift entire plots or characters from programs or movies, but elements of those shows spark ideas of my own. It could be a line of dialogue (Dean Winchester from Supernatural and Spike from Buffy and Angel have some of the best lines!), some characteristic of a character, even the look of a character. Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester on Supernatural, was the inspiration for the hero in Coven. I like those tall, lean guys.

Out of Sight, my finalist in the current American Title contest sponsored by Dorchester Publishing and Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine was partly inspired by a what-if question and partly as a result of my fascination with characters with special abilities, superpowers. Characters like Superman, the X-Men and the Bionic Woman.

I don’t think a writer’s brain ever truly turns off, even when the owner of said brain is taking a break. If you’re parked in front of the silver screen or the small screen, more than likely some part of your brain is processing the stories and characters you’re seeing, trying to figure out if there’s something there to spark a story idea of your own — something unique from but inspired by someone else’s creation. And that’s pretty cool.

Is that my TiVo calling me?

Trish Milburn is a several-time Golden Heart finalist and winner (most recently in 2007 with her YA Coven and author of Heartbreak River, soon to be released by Razorbill/Penguin. She is also, as previously mentioned, a finalist in the American Title contest, so don't forget to go vote!


Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Thanks for having me here today, Natalie. And wasn't Supernatural AWESOME last night?

Natalie Damschroder said...

It WAS! I couldn't stop laughing!

"I lost my shoe."


Thanks for being my guest! Good luck with the contest!

Anna Campbell said...

Trish, firstly huge congratulations on all your contest success! And even huger congratulations on selling. Can't wait till your books come out.

And wow, American Title too! I've checked out your first line and it's definitely my favorite. You got my vote, friend!

I agree with you about TV and movies being inspiring. Sometimes it's just something about how a scene is put together that will spark an idea in me. I also find a good big reading binge (I'm looking forward to one of those in a couple of weeks!) sparks ideas for me. Partly I think it's because I relax when I'm lost in a story and it's when I relax that the girls in the basement get happy and start throwing up possible story ideas.


Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Thanks, Anna. And I really like reading binges too, though I don't get to indulge in them that often. When I last went to the beach on vacation, it was awesome to just have time to read.

Natalie, I cracked up many times too. The shoe comment, and the look on his face when he said it -- LOL! Also loved Dean's, "I'm Batman." :)

Natalie Damschroder said...

Me, three, on the reading binges, though I don't even get them on vacation anymore. :(

YES on the Batman line! And Sam's response. So much teh funny.

Cassondra said...

Trish, I agree with Anna, your first line is wonderful. Makes me angsty that I can't read the rest NOW NOW NOW!

Isn't it funny where inspiration comes from? When I was songwriting full time I read the book "Tunesmith" by Jimmy Webb--considered one of the best songwriters in the world, with a career that spans decades--and in there it talks about walking by a doorway with the mumbled voices of conversations, none of which you can make out, but maybe you catch just a word or two, or a moment of laughter--combine that with the hum of the air conditioning system and the mood lighting in the lobby of the restaurant, and POOF. An idea pops out--out of nowhere it seems, but it's not really. It's the weird combination that has sparked the muse.

I love this concept, and I've gotten ideas from everywhere--snippets from books, tv, a song, a dream (where my most lucid, vivid ideas often begin).

I'm not a tv watcher because I lose control and stare at it like a zombie. It's an all or nothing thing. But I use movies for that--and I can do seasons of tv on video or dvd as you did with Buffy.

I was LOL at the memory of that 06 summer--I remember that from emails--you buried in Buffy, feeling crummy. A lousy beginning for a wonderful end. With this kind of inspiration I may never gripe again.

Best Luck in the American Title contest. Can't wait for the next round to see more of this book!

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Thanks so much, Cassondra. Yes, I was a bit of a downer when I was in that funk. Glad that's behind me now.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Trish!
I, too, am a big believer in movies and TV for inspiration.

Matter-of-fact, your wonderful first line in the AT contest had me thinking of that bank robbery movie, The Inside Man - I think that was the name. Isn't it amazing the images a few words can pull?

During that summer of '06, I'd pretty well decided Mrs. Brimley wasn't going to sell, so I started binging with movies and TV. My ex-superfriend was out that summer and the previews for Heros ran as well. I love the idea of supernatural powers, but you don't see too many of them in historicals (except for vampires, werewolfs, bloody things). That gave me the inspiration for the story that's coming out this summer.

I figure going to the movies is a writer necessity. Besides, where else can you get popcorn that smells that good!!!

Christine Wells said...

Trish, you're so right about TV and movies. Some of these are masterpieces of storytelling. You can absorb so much about the craft of writing without even knowing it from television shows. It's no accident Buffy was such a hit--the writing is superlative, the characters are unique and interesting and the themes explored are universal. Idiot box? I don't think so!

Again, congratulations on your sale and on finaling in the American Title. I've voted for your first line and I'm telling everyone I know to do the same!

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Donna, I love the idea of superpowers in a historical setting. I'm a big fan of superheroes. Speaking of which, anyone watch Heroes? If so, do you think West is being genuine with Claire, or is there some ulterior motive? I really hope for Claire's sake he's not lying to her.

And I love the smell of popcorn at the movies, but strangely I don't eat popcorn. I tend to get a big thing of nachos when I go to the movies.

Thanks so much for your support, Christine. I feel like I should make you and Anna my official campaign managers in Australia. LOL! And you're so write about Buffy. I mean the whole "high school as a horror movie" theme was just brilliant.

Caren Crane said...

Natalie, hi!! Waving madly, because I haven't seen you in ages!

Trish, you know I don't watch TV as a rule, but I adore movies! I find them incredibly inspiring. We got 'The Prestige' from Netflix and I have already watched it twice. What a great movie! Twists and turns galore - right to the end.

Also why I love Harlan Coben. Twit-turn-surprise! It makes me want to write more in the hopes that I can one day awe people with my mad writing skills, as Harlan Coben awes me.

I also love the indulgence of watching a whole season of a show on DVD. That's how I got hooked on 'Dead Like Me'. I'm on Season 2 now and I love it! Of course, there were only two seasons, so that's a major bummer.

'House' is next. I hear I'll love it. *g*

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Caren, I love watching seasons of shows on DVD too. No waiting to see what happens next. :) The problem is if it was a long-running show, I can't manage to stop myself until I'm done.

MaryF said...

Whoo-hoo - I remember the summer of Buffy, and the AWESOME book that came out of it!!!!

I LURVE TV - and there's so much smart stuff out there now - Heroes, Friday Night Lights, my Supernatural boys, Grey's. I prefer TV to movies these days.

Natalie Damschroder said...

Trish, I think this is the most comments I've ever had!

*waves wildly back at Caren*

*also waves at Cassondra, Donna, Christine, Mary*

I have that DVD problem, too. I've spent more time watching Gilmore Girls and have piled up so much on my TiVo it's threatening to start deleting things.

Jacki King said...

I'm a tad late to the the post, Trish...

I get inspiration EVERYWHERE...I think I have about 18 stories in my "to be written" file...LOL

Best of luck in American Title! That contest has done some great things for writers.

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Natalie, I'm shocked you have a bursting TiVo. Shocked, I tell you! :)

Thanks so much, Jacki. And better late than never. :)

Jill Monroe said...

Trish - I'm rooting for you!