Hitmen, PIs, Cowboys, and Cops: How My Favorite Screenwriters and Directors Inspired My Fiction

Read Daniel Cole's exclusive guest post, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his latest thriller, Hangman!

In my rather limited experience of being a writer, I’ve learned that the only thing more certain than being asked on an almost daily basis what my influences are is the disappointed look on the asker’s face when I give them my, apparently, unsatisfactory reply: “movies and television.”

I’m not entirely sure what they’re hoping for—perhaps an in-depth knowledge of celebrated thrillers, an appreciation of the classics and highbrow literature, or an obsession with true-crime cases maybe? But that would be a lie.

If they are polite enough to have remained within earshot following my conversation-killer of an admission, I’ll go on to suggest some of the works of my favorite screenwriters and directors or, more often the case than not, screenwriter/directors.

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)

An incredible playwright’s movie about hired killers, guilt, a dead child, suicide, and responsibility is about as dark as humor gets but is executed flawlessly. While the themes of moral ambiguity are clearly present, the aspect of the film that I really aspired to was the way in which the audience is drip fed the information of what has happened and why they are there, along with the way in which even the most seemingly random tangent is all tied up by the final frame.

Writing this, I wonder whether there’s something in that. These movies I hold in the highest regard tend to be both written and directed by the same person, their vision making it off the page and onto the screen without dilution or interpretation, every line delivered precisely as it was imagined, elevating the final film above countless others and giving it the elusive “spark” that everyone is striving for. 

Firefly/Serenity (Joss Whedon)

This is my favorite TV series ever. Though canceled after just 14 brilliant episodes, it was resurrected as a major movie due to its passionate cult following. The reason that the series struggled could be attributed to “space cowboys” not exactly sounding the most enticing prospect to the majority of sane people. More likely, it’s because FOX decided to broadcast the episodes out of order due to the pilot episode—in which all of the characters were introduced—not being action-packed enough. Proof that even when you’ve written and directed the best thing on TV, there’s still no guarantee that some turd-blossom won’t come along and screw it up for you.

A cast of nine (nine!) main characters, all fully drawn and endearing with extremely complicated relationships, was a definite inspiration for my team of Met detectives. Joss Whedon is also the master of injecting humor at every conceivable opportunity. Then, there’s Captain Mal Reynolds, who undoubtedly makes up his fair share of Wolf’s (one of my main characters) DNA.

The inspired casting of Nathan Fillion means that Captain Mal can flip between hilarious and terrifying in a millisecond. An outlaw and antihero from the outset, the moral lines become increasingly blurry, building towards a heart-breaking scene in Serenity in which he orders his crew to decorate the outside of their ship with the corpses of their friends. He’s doing the right thing, of course—but at what cost?

Both Ragdoll and Hangman have been described many times as being “cinematic,” which should come as no surprise as I don’t really know anything else. My dream was to become a screenwriter, a dream that I worked at for six years, and all I had to show for my efforts was an impressive collection of cut-and-paste rejection letters. It turns out that unsolicited television pilots written on spec by unproven, untrained, and overkeen 20-somethings don’t attract the bidding frenzy that one might envisage.

When the reality dawned on me that nothing was ever going to come from this and the creeping doubts that perhaps after six years of rejections I might just possibly, maybe, not be the incredible undiscovered talent that I’d hoped, I decided to make one final, last-ditch attempt at being a writer by taking the favorite of my screenplays and turning it into a full-length, Harry Potter-sized, door wedge of a novel.

All I had to do now was learn to write.

I remember taking my G.C.S.E.s at 15? 16? (17 if you’re that weird guy with the beard and the car who got put back a year). In my English exam, I got a B. I’d like to say that I’d at least earned that modest achievement alone, but I’m pretty confident that my descriptive writing piece bore an uncanny, lawsuit-worthy resemblance to my favorite Iron Maiden song at the time.

That’s it—the extent of my previous writing experience before sitting down to write a novel, not forgetting the emergency Google searches for minor details such as “how do commas work?,” “semi-colon or colon,” and “how the hell do you punctuate speech within speech?”

Reading this back, I realise that it was actually a rather ambitious/stupid project to embark on, and yet, by sticking to what I knew best, the beginnings of a book slowly started to emerge.

SE7EN (David Fincher/Andrew Kevin Walker)

The obvious one. I still think my favorite thing about this movie is that we are never actually told where it is set. This nameless, decaying, monochrome city drowning beneath a relentless torrent of dirty rain is a character in itself—such an exhaustingly oppressive backdrop, only slightly more preferable to the rancid crime scenes to which the film takes us.

The promise of seven murders based on the deadly sins is an addictive premise utilized in Ragdoll in the form of a list of names and the dates on which they will die—and of course, there’s that ending. However, there is one way in which I actively tried to steer away from this particular movie. As much as I love it, it is a film that I revisit very seldom.

It’s an almost exhausting watch, mostly absent of any levity or respite. It is dark and uncompromising, as it is supposed to be. Contrastingly, I made a conscious decision very early on that I needed my books to be entertaining despite their darkness, and I think it’s very telling that my agent’s original pitch for Ragdoll was, “It’s like SE7EN … but funnier.” To this day, that sums it up more succinctly than anybody else has managed.

Skip ahead one year and I’ve bagged myself an agent—proof that some people actually do get bored enough to read through the slush pile. Being a first-time writer, I had obviously fallen into many of the clichéd novice mistakes, such as repetition of phrase, and I’m pretty confident that of the 100,000 words, 10-20% was made up solely of the words “glanced,” “smirked,” and “sighed.” But my agent loved the story, the way in which it was written, and the dark humor running through it that made her smirk. Keen for a second opinion, she decided to send it off to an external editor to glance through. His reaction made us both sigh.

He didn’t like it much.

He felt that the humor clashed with the macabre subject matter, the constantly changing perspectives were needlessly confusing, and the pacing was off—basically, all of the things I’d taken from those movies I loved so much, all of the things that I’d attempted to emulate from my heroes. A substantial rewrite was suggested, stubbornly ignored, and fortunately, things worked out, making me look incredibly wise rather than simply too ignorant to write the book in any other way.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)

Another of my favorite movies and an example of balancing darkness and humor perfectly. The story involves cold-blooded murder, child abuse, Robert Downey Jr. crying at least twice—and yet, it’s undeniably hilarious.

Something else that Shane Black does brilliantly is provide the bad guys with personalities. No one is just cannon fodder in his movies, as anyone who has seen Iron Man 3 will attest to. In one scene, Tony Stark breaks free of his shackles and an elaborate shootout ensues. Generic henchman number 12 raises his hands, drops his weapon, and says: “Honestly, I hate working here … They are so weird.”

Iron Man lets him go.

So, there it is—somewhere hidden within this small selection of hitmen, PIs, cowboys, and cops created by my heroes are my books. At times, I have felt a bit of an imposter due to my lack of literary expertise, but by consolidating the books’ origins here like this, I realize that aspiring to capture some of what makes these great stories great, in whatever medium, can only be a worthwhile endeavor.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Hangman by Daniel Cole!

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Hangman Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/hitmen-pis-cowboys-and-cops-how-my-favorite-screenwriters-and-directors-inspired-my-fiction-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 24, 2018. Sweepstakes ends at 12:59 p.m. ET August 7, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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  1. Jody Darden

    Love all the movies listed here! Would like to give you book a shot, thanks for the giveaway!

    • Shirley Pinczewski

      My mother loves these books.

  2. John Quiring

    Wow, some good movies to be influenced by. Definitely interested in checking the book out.

  3. Cara

    What a great article, excited for the book!

  4. Michele Gallagher

    Excellent choices! Would love to see how they have influenced your writing!

  5. Karl Stenger

    Loved Ragdoll and cannot wait to read the new one.

  6. Nirmala89

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  7. Karen Mikusak

    Looks great! Would love to win.

  8. Anne Berger

    Fascinating and informative. Love to read this novel.

  9. Shiela Edwards

    Would love to win.

  10. John Smith

    I thought “Firefly” was lame, but “In Bruges” is excellent!

  11. Shelby Forbes

    Some great movies to use as inspiration. Would love to read your book.

  12. patricia zashkoff

    Looks like my kind of book. I’ve seen and loved all the movies you posted.

  13. Ariana Alvarez

    This sounds SO GOOD!
    Very excited about it 🙂

  14. Deborah D

    Sounds like a great book.

  15. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  16. Shirley Evans

    Would love to read this!

  17. Danielle Hammelef

    Thrillers are amazing reads. Thanks for the chance!

  18. Ashley Baker

    Thanks for the chance. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  19. Sheila

    It is always said to write about what you know best! Your book sounds like a great continuation of some of the characters in “Ragdoll!”

  20. Reilly

    Look forward to reading it

  21. Michael Carter

    Great films.
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  22. samantha cox

    These are some great shows. Can’t wait to read your book.

  23. Jess Bechtold

    I would love to read your book, and share about it with my two online book clubs, who are very active each with over 10K members!

  24. Brandy Ybarra

    I loved Ragdoll and I can’t wait for Hangman!

  25. Andrea


  26. Carolyn

    Excellent movie choices and would like to see how they influenced the writing of this book.

  27. Louis Burklow

    I really liked most of these as well so I’m looking forward to the way you use them in your book.

  28. Cindi Hoppes

    Hello, What an interesting journey to your becoming a crime author…Thanks for sharing! I agree with your thoughts about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
    Many thanks, Cindi

  29. Dorothy Gilchrest

    Someone stated “Firefly” was ‘lame’. Stop it! It was delightfully strange. Looking forward to your new book inspired by your own tenacity.

  30. Lynettee Murphy

    Can’t wait to read your book!

  31. Rena

    Great insight into the writing of this book. Can’t wait to read it!

  32. MM

    Can’t wait! Thank you for the opportunity!

  33. Paul Gada


  34. Toni A Laliberte

    I would love to win this book! He’s a fantastic author. Thanks for the chance.

  35. Karen Terry

    Enter me to win this book.

  36. susan beamon

    I would love to read this book, even if only to find the parts that Firefly inspired.

  37. Amy Donahue

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s always so interesting to see what inspires a writer 🙂

  38. Lori P

    Saw some of these movies but none had any lasting effect on me. Very interesting to ponder the influence these and other movies can have, beyond my admittedly limited perspective.

  39. Karen Queen

    Seven affects me no matter how many times I watch it.

  40. David Siegel

    Look forward to it.

  41. pat murphy

    Thank you for the chance to win .

  42. Elena L.

    Utterly thrilling and fast-paced, I would love to read =)

  43. Mary C

    Love the post.

  44. Emily Catan

    Hangman sounds intriguing, a convincing mystery thriller! Will check out Ragdoll as well! Thanks!

  45. Laurent L

    Great list of movies and shows. I love these too.

  46. Russ Cross

    I’d love to win this book!

  47. Jean Barber

    A book I want to read!

  48. Julie Toller

    Waiting for Hangman

  49. Teresa Young

    And now I feel the need to watch Firefly & Serenity again – a great influence.

  50. Janice Milliken

    At least he’s honest!

  51. Suzanne McMannis

    movie mystery

  52. Andrew Beck

    Ah, Mr. Cole likes great stories with deliciously unusual yet relatable characters. But don’t we all?

  53. Cathy Doyle

    The very first time I actually like all the movies mentioned. Would love to see how they have inspired your stories.

  54. Susan C.

    Sounds absolutely intriguing without a doubt.

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  56. Karen Hester

    I would love to win the book if it is inspired by In Bruges

  57. Janet Gould

    I can’t wait to read this book!

  58. Barbara Aiello

    Rag Doll was great and can’t wait to read about Emily Baxter’s next case. Thx for the opportunity!

  59. Rhonda Stefani

    Thrilled to hear the thought process behind the book, great movies! I already had this on my wtr list, now anticipating it even more.

  60. joel timmons

    Cant. Wait. To. Read. This. Hangmans. A. Coming

  61. L

    I get inspiration from movies and shows, too, as well as books. The above are some of my favorites. I’m sure the book will make for very good reading!

  62. ViolinGeek

    Sounds like a book worth checking out considering the movie influences!!

  63. estafura

    I have had my eye on this book!

  64. Darlene Slocum

    A am looking forward to reading this one

  65. Marisa Young

    Would like to read this book.

  66. Susan Morris

    I am a fan of the same movies and I think I would enjoy reading your first novel. Thanks for the opportunity to win it.

  67. Saundra K. Warren

    Sounds like a great book!!!!

  68. Stephanie

    Seven is actually one of my favorite movies! You don’t have to send me another copy of your book since I already have it but just wanted to tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading it!

  69. Jean Feingold

    In Bruges intrigued me.

  70. Mary Woods

    Love Firefly/Serenity, too!

  71. Helen Allman

    Very much looking forward to this.

  72. Helen Allman

    Looking forward to it.

  73. Theresa Casteel

    I feel the element of humor is essential in even the darkest stories.

  74. Helen Martin

    Wonderful choice of movies. I loved these as well. Look forward to reading your new book.

  75. Brad Bonds

    Interesting…I’d like to read this book.

  76. carloshmarlo

    I loved Se7en but I got bored with In Bruges. I think I should give it another chance. Thanks for the chance to win this book.

  77. Susan Pertierra

    It’s interesting that movies and television are an influence for the writing.

  78. Deb Philippon

    In Bruges and Firefly/Serenity are some of the few shows I can watch over and over. Bodes well for the book.

  79. Susan

    I loved In Bruges and Se7en so I’ll check out Hangman and the other movies

  80. john frost

    Loved Ragdoll as well as all these movies!

  81. donna musche

    Hope i win!

  82. Collette Cantrell

    The fact that your descriptive writing piece bore an uncanny, lawsuit-worthy resemblance to your favorite Iron Maiden song, had me roaring! Loved the article. I must have this book! 💀😂

  83. desertraindrops

    Once more, as a now registered member of this site. The fact that your descriptive writing piece bore an uncanny, lawsuit-worthy resemblance to your favorite Iron Maiden song, had me roaring! Loved the article. I must have this book! 💀😂

  84. Christal M

    Looks like a good read

  85. DanielM

    sounds like a fun one

  86. Marsha Kamish


  87. Anastasia

    I love Firefly too! This guy is up my alley 🙂

  88. Jeffrey Raiffe

    Great looking book. Can’t wait to read it.

  89. Alyson Widen

    Thanks for letting us in on your thinking. A writer tends to be affected by the things surrounding oneself. It makes sense that the suspense scenes in movies and TV resonate in your writing.

  90. Joan. B

    Would love to win. Sounds very good


    Thanks for the opportunity to win!

Comments are closed.