With the holidays in full swing, the frenetic rush of shopping and partying can make the days feel a little hectic. If you’re like me, you want to steal away and curl up with a good read. (I hope you are all putting lots of books on your gift list—remember, they make great stocking stuffers!)
But then, I’m an avid reader whatever the season. I’ve always got a book going, and take great delight in losing myself in another author’s story. So when one of our readers recently asked the Wenches how what we read influences us, we thought it made a great question for our monthly “Ask A Wench” feature. So thank you Jean Merriott for posing this query:
How are the Wenches influenced by what they read? Or do they consciously try NOT to be influenced?
Curious? Please read on to get the inside story!
Many authors worry about being over-influenced, perhaps to the point of imitation, but I never have. I think it's because my creative mind is so quirky
it seems unlikely to follow anyone else's.
However, I was inspired by Georgette Heyer and wanted to grow up to write books that gave readers pleasure, and by Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books toward drama and pushing my characters into tortuous situations. But there, I mostly wimp out.
I read voraciously, across the board, never in just one genre. And I have No Memory. Everything seeps into my subconscious. Since I can't give up reading, I'm as likely to be influenced by a milk carton as by a book. To make life simpler, I just don't worry about what influences what I write. Yes, if I start glomming urban fantasy, I'm going to have urban fantasy ideas, but I'm quite certain my ideas aren't like anyone else's because I have a strange brain that rushes off on tangents that have nothing to do with the market, the genre, or anything else. Which makes it very hard to market books, admittedly!
I'm far more likely to be influenced by real life stories I hear or read about, or research I'm doing, or by song lyrics, than by anything I read for pleasure.
I have found that it is possible for my writing style to be directly influenced by what I read by a sort of unconscious writerly osmosis. I try very hard to avoid this ever since the time I wrote a beautifully crafted paragraph and realized to my horror upon re-reading it that it was someone else’s beautifully crafted paragraph and I had unconsciously absorbed and reproduced it.
When I was starting out writing I think I was very heavily influenced by Georgette Heyer and I suspect I’m not alone in that. As my own voice developed I hope that changed and that I found my own style. These days I avoid being influenced by reading no romance books at all whilst I am writing. I read crime, thrillers and non-fiction and save romance and historical fiction as my treat for when I am between books or on holiday.
That said, there are authors who I would very happily claim have influenced me in the wider sense: Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier are two examples of authors who have influenced me to try to create strong characters and beautifully realized settings. Any book I read that is an inspiring example of its craft encourages me to raise my game so that can only be a good thing!
MARY JO PUTNEY
I worried a lot more about unconscious copying when I first started out. Now, not so much. For one thing, I have a good memory and will usually (well, often <g>) remember something that's distinctive so I can avoid using it. But more importantly, now I better appreciate how different we are in the way we put the elements together.
Take, for example, my book, LOVING A LOST LORD, and Anne Gracie's recent THE ACCIDENTAL WEDDING. Both features injured amnesiac heroes and the women who rescue them. Some would say they must be similar. If so, Some would be wrong. <G> The books are nothing alike. LALL is unmistakably an MJP book, and TAW is unmistakably an Anne Gracie. (I could list the points of difference, but that would take days. <G>)
Influence is a different matter. Everything I've read and experienced influences me, so no one book or writer is apt to overwhelm my own voice.
I don't know why this is, but Romance books mess with my voice. It's not that I start to sound like the other authors, but I start to 'think' about how I sound. I get self-conscious.
So I read Science Fiction and Nonfiction and Historical Fiction and the backs of cereal cartons and the small print that comes with common household appliances and none of that seems to bother me any. Eventually I get to the 'editing' part of a manuscript and I can read anything I want, which is a relief.
I discuss stories with other writers all the time but I'm not worried about taking their ideas (or vice versa) because even if all my writer friends took an identical story, with identical events, the stories would come out differently and each one, I'm sure would contain small surprises. That's the magic of "voice," where each author's individual approach — their attitudes, their personality, their concerns, as well as their style — flavor and build the story differently. It's like if you handed a dozen different cooks the same ingredients, they'd serve up a dozen different dishes.
Sometimes I admire aspects of other people's writing, and that influences me, but usually in a "must do better" sense, rather than any imitative sense. I think all good writing I read has a subtle influence on my own craft, and has all my reading life.
I get ideas while I'm reading other people's books, too, but usually they bear no relation to what I've just read. Often it's that some scene from my story isn't quite working and reading helps me stop fretting at it. And freed from my pecking at it, the muse throws up the solution. Sometimes it's just the simple realization that I was writing the scene from the wrong person's point of view. Or I'd set it in the wrong place. Or that it's rubbish and needs to be dropped.
I also admit to being influenced by Georgette Heyer. In a way, I grew up in the regency world she created — I've been reading and rereading her books since I was eleven — and so I cannot help but inhabit my characters in a somewhat similar world. And we have a similar sense of humor. But I don't try to copy her — in fact I try not to copy her — though I daresay I sometimes unconsciously echo her. I catch myself using phrases in everyday speech that I know I picked up from Heyer. But even if I wanted to imitate Heyer or anyone else –which I don't — I've never been able to stick to a recipe or follow a set of instructions exactly. I've always danced to my own tune. There's no joy in writing, otherwise.
SUSAN FRASER KING
I’m reading all the time, with several books in play all at once – fiction, nonfiction, historical, contemporary, mystery, romance, paranormal, cereal boxes, catalogues – and at the same time I’m writing something of my own. So the question of influence is a good one. Writers are always reading, absorbing, learning, thinking, and I learn a lot from reading. Yet there are inherent filters in the writing psyche, I think, and if there’s a strong sense of your own voice and story, undue influence isn’t a problem. Personally I can’t read in the same genre in which I’m actively writing, especially if the other book is good – suddenly what I’m doing seems stupid, and that unplugs the writing energy quickly. So I don’t read much when I’m writing, or else I read something completely different.
But sometimes I want to be influenced by someone’s writing. I’ll haul out something I love, like a Mary Stewart novel or some Dylan Thomas or one of my keepers. Then the creative well fills up a little, and I get inspired and impatient to go off and do my own work, in my own way.
I’ve been a voracious reader since I first learned the alphabet, and always have a book that I’m engrossed in—sometimes two or three, depending on my mood. Non-fiction, romance, mystery, historical fiction, arcane research . . . you name it, I’ll read it. Am I influenced by all those words? Absolutely! But not in a literal, linear way. The effect of other stories and other styles of writing is hard to define. From some books I get my own quirky ideas of a plot or character, and from others I see ways in which the prose is crafted that help me to see things I’d like to improve in my own writing.
The authors who have influenced me are too numerous to list—Austen, Heyer,
Dorothy Sayers are just a few of the people who have shown me what magic cam be made through the use of words, To transport a reader to a world of the imagination is a wondrous thing, and that’s what makes me passionate about what I do.
For me, creativity is at odds with copying. I want to tell a story in my own way, and with my own vision. For that reason, copying would be no fun at all! As my brain whirs and churns, all sorts of offbeat things get stirred up, and trying to mold them into a coherent story is part of the pleasure and pain of the writing process. I swear, I’ve stuffed so many odd things into my head over the years, I don’t think that I could mimic someone else’s style if I tried.
However, like Joanna, I usually avoid reading romance when I am in the middle of writing one. Not because I am afraid of being influences, but because it makes me squirrelly and doubtful about my own writing. I’ll sit there and whimper, “Oh, that’s SO much better than what I’m putting on paper.” There are enough doubts and fears in bringing a story to life, so I find that it’s too stressful to add another. And while I used to worry about subconsciously picking up a similar plot from some other author, I don’t fret about it so much now. Most plots have been done many times over—it’s the author’s voice and characters that make a story unique. So I try to trust myself that I can give an idea my own special spin.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Now it's your turn to share. Please tell us a little about how reading has influenced your life.