Paying Tribute to the Ones Who have Inspired and Supported You – Adding Little Flourishes to Your Stories by Brad Windhauser
With Thanksgiving approaching, we have decided to discuss a different way to give thanks—how do we pay tribute to the influences in our writing lives, be they our friends and family and/or the writers who have influenced us?
Out of all the writers who have taught and inspired me with their work, Ernest Hemingway and Quentin Tarantino top the list (Fitzgerald is a close third). I don’t write a scene with dialogue without thinking of how these two approach the craft. No two writers have influenced me as much, and as such, no two writers have taught me as much. Therefore, it’s only fitting that my work reflects their influence and that I include a little homage to them every so often in my stories.
The trick is to do this in a subtle way, one that other fans will catch (and hopefully appreciate) but won’t feel forced. So, in the tradition of “The Three-Day Blow,” for example, in a story, I have characters engage in seemingly innocuous small talk—about the weather or a sports team—which I use to establish character interests and relationship dynamics. Is one more controlling than the other? Which one agrees verbally but mentally rolls his eyes? When does one of the characters change the subject—signaling impatience or discomfort?
When the conversation shifts to what is really on the characters’ minds, then the content becomes the story—a technique at which both Hemingway and Tarantino excel. The meat of this type of scene is what writing good dialogue is all about; however, the casual build-up, which some writers would cut, is my tip of the hat to their style and what I’ve learned from it.
But honoring these two writers is not the only way I pay tribute to my influences. Since we are the company we keep, I like to include a number of my friends in my stories, when the situation is appropriate. This adds a little color, life to a background scene, especially in a public setting (for example at a party or a bar).
This is a Fitzgerald trope, one used to great effect in The Great Gatsby. I’m referring specifically to the famous party list Nick recounts as he observes the fantastic gatherings at Gatsby’s house. This tool can introduce a large cast of characters quickly and allows the reader to associate a single noticeable, physical trait that distinguishes one character from the others, such as a stuttering laugh or dark mole. This also helps paint the scene. By why use my friends? Using them as characters allows me to accentuate the traits in them I appreciate and include them in a way they will enjoy. Who has a particularly effervescent personality? Who tells good jokes? Who has fun, work-related stories? I have yet to meet a friend who didn’t enjoy this. After all, it’s a compliment, especially when they are depicted in a positive light.
Giving thanks is important for several reasons, the least of which is that it pays to tip your hat to those who have helped you along—professionally and personally. A little humility goes a long way. In addition, you’ll be surprised at how much the people you care about enjoy seeing themselves included (in a positive way) into your work. This might just compel them to seek out every story you write, to see if they made the cut. It might also give them another reason to recommend it.