Monday, July 2, 2012

Influences, schminfluences

Do the books you are reading leave their footprints on your works in progress? When you write, do you sometimes look back over the last few paragraphs or chapters and think, “Gee…that sounds sort of familiar…” and then realize you just rewrote a scene from your current favorite read? And your characters are now helping themselves to some other author’s plot?

OK…maybe I’m the only one.

But seriously, when I go from reading the last book in the Song of Ice and Fire -- Game of Thrones series, then crack open my middle grade fantasy WIP – and see bits and pieces of my own little game of thrones going on, it makes me pause.

First of all, don’t get me wrong. My 12 year old characters are not lopping off each other’s heads or marrying their own cousins, hatching baby dragons or even shape-shifting into huge, wild wolves when they dream. (Forgive me, George R. R. Martin! But I’m not really stealing your stories!!) There is, however, an element of a tug-of-war over a throne, cousins vying for the King’s attention, eccentric characters and even a dragon coming to life in my manuscript.

So after editing 40 pages last night, I stopped with fingers poised over the keyboard and said, “Oho!”

OK…I didn’t say it out loud. But I thought it – loudly – so that should count for something.
            “Oho!,” I thought. “THIS might be why there are only so many plots in the world! Writers steal from each other. And I bet everybody knew this but me!”

(Oh, come on. You totally have moments where you talk to yourself like that. I know you do. Just admit it.)

“West Side Story really IS Romeo and Juliet rewritten!” I mused.

My thoughts continued to meander, eventually focusing again on my own characters, their story and their world. But I suddenly felt like I had a better grasp on why they were doing some of the things they were doing…why I had written parts of the story a certain way and what I should think about changing, expanding, and deleting as I was editing.



What novels have inspired you? What influences can you trace in your own writing? Poets? Essayists? Novelists? Playwrights? Do you see Shakespeare’s plots or a shimmer of Emerson’s words in your pieces? Maybe Stephen King’s tension or characters that remind you of someone from a Norah Ephron screenplay?



So maybe my MG novel will be the Game of Thrones for the elementary school set.

HBO, here I come!!


13 comments:

  1. What I take from books are words and phrases, ideas yes. The biggest influence on my writing, strangely enough is music. I wrote my first novel on an idea I had when I was listing to a song. Before I decided to write a novel I read for the pleasure only, now when I read, it's to self-educaute. I think wherever a writer find's inspiration is a combo of things and unique to the writer, their voice, what they write, and how passionate they are about it.

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    1. Thanks, Brenda, for your thoughts! I listen to music while I write and often find myself interrupted in my stream of thought when I catch a particularly nice lyric. Sometimes it comes in the middle of a song I've loved for years -- but I've never heard that lyric exactly that way before, and it suddenly sounds like poetry. A different kind of influence...

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  2. While writing my MG series, I was influenced by the Percy Jackson books. I loved them and studied them because Rick Riordan is a master!

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    1. I agree, Kelly! Riordan is a master at storytelling and at incorporating mythology into a contemporary setting. Loved Percy and his friends!

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  3. Hi Karen,
    What an interesting topic! Original, in and of itself. I like your writing style, just in the way you shared this experience. I detect it's coming from straight from what you felt, which happens to be a crucial element in storytelling.

    This might seem odd to some, but I don't read in the genre that I write. This saves me from being influenced by other work. I, however was, and am an avid reader of non-fiction, and was very much influenced by the raw nuggets of that writing 'style;' how I picked up the 'habit' of moving from one plot point to the next.

    Very nice post.

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    1. RYCJ -- I find it fascinating that you don't read the genre that you write. I'm not sure I could do that... I think I learn so much from other authors who have been successful in the field -- writing for the audience I want to also write for. Although, I can absolutely agree when you say you are influenced by nuggets of writing style in other genres. Been there, done that!! Thanks for your thoughts and welcome to Carpe Keyboard!

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  4. Someone said, ' there are no new ideas, just new ways to tell them.' I have no idea who, but they have a point. People have been borrowing for centuries and making them the ideas their own.

    I find myself thinking that an author expressed something perfectly or used the word I had been looking for. Why wouldn't I follow their lead? I think everyone is influenced by something. The other side are those people who are inspired by an authors fame and instead of using their story they copy their genre and believe they will be the next ...

    Great topic! Love the blog.

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    1. Great distinction, Micheeleziegler -- I know exactly what you mean about people being inspired by an author's success. How many Harry Potter look-alikes do you suppose ended up in agents' slush piles? Or (heaven forbid) how many teenage angst-ridden vampire love stories? (*chuckle*) Better to learn something about the skill and art of writing than to just hop on a topic-bandwagon!

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  5. Nature usually inspires me... but tonight when struggling with a character's reaction to a difficult situation I glanced at the television and an expression on Sheldon's face in Big Bang Theory inspired a whole scene in my sequel to Holiday Affair!

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  7. Certainly everything you read has a direct impact on your writing. Nothing wrong with that. I have heard the mantra: There is no such thing as an original story. so many times, I want to tear out my hair. :) Just write what you love. WRITE ON!

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