It's a question writers are often asked, and which they may sometimes ask of themselves. For my money, Stephen King provided the best answer to this question. He proposed the idea that we all have a filter in our brains and as we go through life certain things stick in that filter, things which may pass through everyone else's. For King, the things which seemed to frequently catch in his filter erred on the darker side of life. Hence the horror. For other people, their filter may catch the weird and the amusing, the fantastic, the mysterious or even the downright saucy.
I've found that I tend to write about the extraordinary, sometimes the fantastical, but my stories are always grounded in the human experience. After all, a fantastical tale told without any emotional human connection is really just an empty exercise, in my opinion. I also tend to write about tortured heroes. I like a happy ending as much as the next guy, but my protagonists need to go through a pretty hard time to reach that happy ending, and even when they get there, it'll never be the happy ending they (or the reader) expect. I guess I'm a 'bitter-sweet-ending' kind of guy. And if there is one thing above all else which drives my writing it's the love of surprise. I want to surprise my readers, I want to surprise my characters, and hell, yes, I want to surprise myself when I'm writing -hence my reluctance to write detailed story outlines these days. I love to tell fast-paced stories and it's always my intention to provide a gripping mystery to solve right from the first paragraph, if possible, or at least from the opening chapter. Mystery is primal. Everyone loves a mystery.
But above all else, I want to find that emotional connection with my hero or my main characters. When I'm reading a book or watching a film, the thing I most value is to be moved by it in some way. The ability to stir the emotions in drama or fiction is a truly wonderful thing. It's what I always strive for when I'm writing. And I'm not talking about sentimentality, the 'unearned emotion'. I'm talking about creating characters which readers really care about. It should be at the core of what we do. To this day I am amazed and inspired by the public outcry from readers when Dickens said he was going to kill off Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. That so many people found the death of a fictional character to be so deeply upsetting that they needed to beg the author not to carry it out - well, it's just beyond words.
There have been two great influences in my life with regards to my artistic sensibilites, and they are the works of two massively talented Stephens - Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg. I think my own sensibilities lie somewhere between the two. I remember years ago picking up a paperback copy of King's The Talisman and reading that Spielberg had bought the rights to make it into a movie. Sadly, it never materialised, but I often wonder how perfect that partnership might have been. For me, anyway.
I'm off to do some writing now. Like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, I might just keep a box of tissues by the keyboard. You know, in case I get something in my eye.