Posts on Writing: Influences
In trying to write this post, I came up against a wall. My first instinct was, unfortunately, to try and depersonalize it. I went on this really silly explication of what influence is. And I hated it. But how to make this more personal? By exploring my own influences.
Starting with genre, I’m highly influenced by sword and sorcery, especially the originators of the genre (and some later writers). But unlike most others who are passionate about S&S, I’m not so very interested in the rhetoric of the sword. For me, I’m far more attracted and passionate about the sorcery. What does that say about me, I wonder?
Perhaps that is why I’m somewhat more fond of Clark Ashton Smith compared to Robert E. Howard. Smith is as likely to use a sorcerer protagonist as he is a swordsman.
Manga, especially shonen manga, also strongly influences me. Though my interest in the strong bonds that create alternative families is not exclusive to shonen (Tales of the City is also a great love of mine). But when it comes to shonen, I do find myself not as interested in the typical hero.
I can’t say I’m as influenced by superhero comic books as I am by manga. Though there are some writers who are more influential than others (namely more recent ones like James Robinson, Kieron Gillen, and Scott Snyder).
Speaking of individual writers, where would I be without China Mieville? The Bas-Lag novels showed me how to freaking world build. And that I don’t have to be limited by the medieval in fantasy.
Although by the same token, He-man and the Masters of the Universe and She-ra: Princess of Power are equally major influences when it comes to world building. I just love the idea of mashing up history, culture, science fiction, fantasy, etc.
Now, there is a danger, I think, of limiting oneself to only influences (or sources) in the genre one writes in. It leads to bad derivative works. Move beyond!
So, outside of genre, what influences me? History. Academic and little studied. I’m also influenced by certain elements of critical theory. Hey, I did want to be an academic for years! And a historian (on occasion).
I won’t go into all of the history I’m influenced by. It is massive. It is rather schizo. Honest.
Let’s move on to other fictions. I’ve already mentioned Tales of the City. Well, I do find Armistead Maupin to be a huge influence. And count among them many other gay writers. Also, a wide range of writers like Margaret Atwood (her mimetic fiction), Cormac McCarthy, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, John Webster, Tennessee Williams, John Galsworthy, Yasunari Kawabata, etc.
Now, I don’t have to agree with some of the writers I find influential. I loathe Ian Fleming’s politics, but his James Bond series is undeniably an influence. Much as Lovecraft’s politics are repellent, but so many writers are influenced by him.
You can also be influenced, honestly, by writers you have issues with. Take Glee. Or Dryland’s End. When I write LGBT characters, I’ll have my issues with how Kurt Hummel, et al. are written to contrast with. And when it comes to being gay and writing science fiction and fantasy, I’ll have my issues with Dryland’s End (and some other examples) to inspire me (in what not to do).
And that’s just what I’m consciously aware of. Who knows what I’m unaware of. Of course, that’s where critics (and critically minded fans come in).
Influence is conscious and unconscious. It exists in the background. It can be anything. Or everything.
Next time. What’s up with topical episodes? And I have a rant on fandom building.