Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Influence of Writing

So, last week, or the week before, I was reading a blog. The blogger was ranting about this, that, and that and this, and a whole lot of other stuff. Fine. Dandy. Not a problem. Then, the blogger stated that he/she was the first person to use a particular writing technique . . . or something to that effect.


I think not.

In fact, I'd used something similar more than once.

OMG . . . I'm psychically plagiarizing!

No. I'm. Not.

The whole post started my brain cells synapsing. In fact, they were doing the synapsy-dance thing.

The end result: the influence of writing.

I firmly believe that every single thing I read . . . influences my writing AND eventually, permeates my writing to a certain extent.

We all know there are no new ideas. There are only ideas used over and over and over and over and over again . . . with a unique twist we, as writers, can call our own.

We should also know that what we read influences our writing in some way, shape, or form. It happens.

So, if someone writes a story about dragons that communicate telepathically with humans . . . well, they've been influenced, most likely, by Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern - LOVE IT!) or some other story they've read that used a similar idea.

Tolkien set the stage for Elves. Seriously, people, he did. My image of Elves is firmly set in Middle Earth. When I write about Elves . . . they're influenced by Tolkien's imagery. I can't help it. I forever see Elves as tall, somewhat ethereal, individuals. I don't see them as small, pixie like beings . . . and I don't write about them in that way.

Tolkien influenced my concept of Elves. It happens.

The whole point is . . . while I'd love to take sole credit for something, in reality, I really can't when it comes to writing. I can take credit for a great concept and a great story. I can't take credit for comparing a relationship to a flower. Many, many writers have been there, done that, and have multiple t-shirts to prove it. It's been done before.

I can't take credit for telepathic dragons. I might use them in some fantasy novel in the future, or a story idea that's outlined but hasn't gone anywhere, but I can't claim credit for the original concept or say I'm the first to have telepathic dragons in a story.

My imagery of dragons was firmly established by the brilliance of Anne McCaffrey . . . just as my imagery of Elves was firmly established by Tolkien. Oh, and he established my imagery of dwarves as well.

In the end, I can take the influence of everything I read, and acknowledge that influence in what I write. I don't live in a vacuum. I don't NOT read books. I devour books. An author's irreverent and quirky writing style might inspire me to try something similar. An author's long, narrative descriptive passages might inspire me to try the same thing. Then again, it might not. If my Elves are tall and my Dragons telepathic, I can acknowledge, to myself and others, that the writings of Tolkien and McCaffrey influenced my Elves and Dragons. If I don't acknowledge the influence of all that I have read, and all that I will read, am I not lying to myself?

Hmmm . . .


Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Hmmm, this sounds awfully familiar... I take your stance on this, yes, and I think it's impossible to steal a person's voice or tone and make it all your own. Impossible. The voice I used in my most recent novella came from a voice I developed in college and took a chance using again in a longer work. I got that voice from reading and studying the classics. Yeah, I was heavily influenced by them and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. :)

Scott said...

Michelle - yeah, you know where I got the inspiration for this one. Ha!

I don't think you can steal a writer's voice. Tone - yeah, maybe, a bit, but . . . each writer is an individual, and no matter if they only read Tolkien, the tone of their writing, and the voice, would be unique to the writer. Tolkien was Tolkien.

There was one standout comment on the blog I mentioned, and it was as if a person stole this writer's way of referring to something. Like how vague I'm being? The 'something' is something I've done in the past, and that I've seen other writers do, which is what made me delve into the influence of other writers on our own writing.

I have many voices/tones depending on the project. My cozy mystery has a irreverent/casual tone, whereas another project has a combo serious/snarky tone. As writers, we can alter our 'voices' to fit the story we are telling.


Janey B said...

I think writers develop a voice of their own, they can't help it. That said, EVERYTHING influences a writer and therefore that person's voice.

I want to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez when I grow up, but I never will be. I will always be Jane Baskin, who is strongly influenced by Garcia Marquez.

Elana Johnson said...

I definitely think that there are influences on my writing based on things I've read. I try really hard to make my words all my own. My voice. My ideas. My techniques. But they are all colored by what I believe, what I've seen/heard/read. But every person does see/hear/read things differently, so while we're influenced, we shouldn't see plagiarism in that influence.