Ok, this is still very much a work in progress since (to my knowledge at least) I haven’t actually created anything influential yet. But, since I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit recently, I thought that I’d share my thoughts about this whole subject.
But, before we get started, here’s some
filler background about influential creative works…
Although influential works usually initially fall slightly outside of mainstream culture, they eventually become a major (if somewhat subliminal) part of it.
Whilst some influential works end up becoming famous as soon as people see or hear of them (such as The Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” – which is, itself, heavily influenced by quite a few things) many end up becoming “cult classics”. I’ll talk about why this is a good thing later in this article.
Not only that, a few slightly similar influential works can often end up creating a new genre or art movement too. For example, the cyberpunk genre was technically started by a short story written by Bruce Bethke in 1980. However, it was only with the release of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” in 1982 and the publication of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in 1984 that the cyberpunk genre really took off.
If you look at any cyberpunk novel, comic or film then you will probably see something in there which was inspired by “Blade Runner” or “Neuromancer”.
In fact, even if a cyberpunk author, artists or film-makers somehow hasn’t seen “Blade Runner” and/or read “Neuromancer” their work still might be influenced by it because they’ve been influenced by things which were influenced by “Blade Runner” and/or “Neuromancer”. This is how influential works are passed on from generation to generation.
So, yes, creating something influential should probably be the main ambition for every creative person. Yes, it might not always get you that much in the way of fame or glory (compared to the latest fashionable pop star or whatever), but you’ll get something even better than both of those two things.
You’ll get the chance to see traces of your own work in all sorts of other things and you will be able to bask in the knowledge that part of your imagination will live on for generations to come.
So, whilst I haven’t made an influential work yet, here are some of my ideas and observations about what makes an influential story/picture/film/comic etc….
1) A good magician never reveals their methods, but you aren’t a magician. You’re a teacher: If you create something influential, then (whether you want to or not) you will become a teacher. This doesn’t mean that you’ll start working at a school or a college or whatever, but it means that at least some other creative people will want to learn how to make things like the things you’ve made. So, teach them.
Even if you keep your creative processes and techniques secret, then people will still look at your work and try to reverse-engineer it anyway. So, you might as well talk or write about your own influences, techniques etc.. to give the people who want to turn your work into something influential (eg: all the people who are influenced by it) a head-start. It’ll make your work influential a lot more quickly than if you keep everything about how you made it a closely-guarded secret.
I mean, if you see or read something which amazes you, then you’ll probably want to learn more about how it was made. Your fans will probably think the same way about your work too….
2) We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants: Almost every influential work is, itself, influenced by a few other influential works. This is how our culture evolves. However, an influential work can’t just be an imitation of things that have already been made – it has to be something new. Do you see the contradiction here?
Regardless of what people may say, many influential works are created when people combine several other things (the more different they are, the better) in a unique way and then add a small amount of their own imagination into the mix. Sometimes, that’s all there is to it.
“Blade Runner” is the perfect example of this whole process – the story and many of the characters were very loosely based on a Philip K.Dick novel from the 60s called “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, the style of the film is clearly inspired by old “film noir” films from the 1940s and 50s, some of the settings are inspired by various cities in Asia and some of the settings are clearly based on both 1940s-50s America and “roaring twenties” America.
On their own, none of these elements would have been particularly groundbreaking. But, by carefully mixing them together and adding a lot of his own imagination, Ridley Scott was able to create a masterpiece which has inspired countless other films and comic books.
This isn’t the only way to create something influential, but it seems to be fairly common. However, throwing any old things together won’t magically create an influential work – the real art seems to lie in knowing what to combine.
3) People should be able to geek out about it: Do you remember that I said that most influential works are “cult classics”? All this basically means is that, instead of a huge number of fans who just like your work, you have a relatively small group of fans who absolutely love it.
In fact, they’ll love it so much that they’ll probably geek out about it a lot. They’ll probably memorised every important part of what you’ve made, they’ll come up with their own theories about what you’ve made and some of them might even want to make something similar.
If you want to influence other creative people, then making a “cult classic” is pretty much mandatory.
I’ve written about this subject before, but the best way to make something that other people can geek out about is to geek out about it when you’re making it. Even though you might gain a lot of geeky fans, the geekiest and most knowledgeable fan of your own work should always be you.
4) It should be ahead of it’s time: As someone who is (subjectively and technologically) still somewhere in the previous decade at least, I probably can’t really advise you on how to make something which is ahead of it’s time. Sorry about this.
Still, from what I gather, most creative people who are ahead of their time generally tend to have a very good eye for emerging trends and technologies (for example, the internet was still very much in it’s infancy when William Gibson wrote “Neuromancer”).
I’d suggest making something about the impact that 3D printing will have on society. But, well, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” already covered that whole subject a couple of decades ago…
Predicting social changes is probably a hell of a lot more difficult, but there are probably still clues about future social changes hidden in the present day if you look hard enough or know where to look.
5) It should be you: Many influential works either include a lot of their creator’s own personality, worldview and/or fascinations. However, at the same time, these things are usually never obvious unless it’s something autobiographical or semi-autobiographical (like Hunter S. Thomspon’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”). But, without them, the work would be a hollow shell of it’s former self.
The best way to think of this is to think of it as being similar to the bass parts of a heavy metal song – these are usually drowned out by the drums, the intricate guitar solos and the catchy riffs. But without a bass player, the song would sound incomplete. Likewise without discreetly adding your own personality, whatever you create will be incomplete.
This is why people who just try to imitate influential works often don’t create anything influential. They copy all of the superficial features of whatever has influenced them, but they don’t add any of their own personality to it. They don’t make it their own.
Don’t make this mistake.
Sorry that this article was kind of random and contained a lot of fairly general advice that you’ve probably heard a hundred times before. As I said earlier, I’m still trying to work out how to make something influential. So, this article is probably something of a work in progress…
Anyway, I hope that this article was useful [or at least inspirational] 🙂
Good luck 🙂