I’ve been gearing up to work on another long form piece of fiction recently (several in fact), and as I do, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about voice, style, and word choice. The way a writer structures his or her tone, designs sentences, and employs personal vocabulary all have a powerful effect on the reception of a piece. Some of this is simply trial and error: writing a sentence and deleting it, scribbling an outline and crumpling it up, thinking about an idea in the shower then writing it on the train. At least that’s the brainstorming process for me—I assume it varies. There is another component to writer’s introspection, however, and that is taking a good look at your influences.
Writers influence other writers just by the act of being read. It doesn’t matter if a work is good or bad, or if the reader either loves or hates the work—it is going to make an impact. If the story is well received, the reader will attempt to breakdown the parts that work, reverse engineer it in their mind, and awe at the way words were honed and crafted to deliver the message. Conversely, if the work is bad, the writer will inspect what doesn’t work and likewise reverse engineer the problems and view the work as they might have written it (if they feel it was worth writing at all). Once again, this is my personal experience but I’d venture to say it’s this way for many writers out there.
Either way, it comes back to Oscar Wilde’s assertion, “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” It is, through a particular lens, inevitable. Your writing craft only gets better through continued reading and practiced writing—otherwise you will plateau. If you don’t expand from your reading and writing comfort zone, your own style (and indeed your very mind and soul) will become stagnate and still. My general comfort zone is science fiction and fantasy, however, my first novel was semi-autobiographical, and most of my blogging is review based. Overall I’ve read more comic books than 99% of people, which generally informs the style of my storytelling, if not my writing.
Comic Books continue to influence me throughout my adult life, but as a child, the most influential creative teams, for me, included the likes of Gail Simone, Dan Jurgens, Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Brett Breeding, and Jon Bogdanove. Moving into my teens, Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness, Grant Morrison, Akira Toyatama, Brian Azzarello, and Eduardo Risso made a strong impact. As I came into my twenties, I discovered creators like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Brian K. Vaughn, Mark Millar, and many, many more. This is essentially a name drop list really—and it also mixes illustrators and inkers with writers because of the nature of comic book storytelling. Each of these creators has infected my mind and directed my personal style. Comics have a different impact than novels, and as such, the creative teams mix imagery with word-craft to create a sense of continuity, development (of character and story), and above all else, a cliffhanger. Comics have to keep you continually coming back.
When I think back about the novels that have influenced me most, I find that some fall in my comfort zone and others do not. Certainly the Incarnations of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony, and The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny, had an effect on my perspective on the spectrum of quantum possibility; mixing theology, mysticism, science, and mysterious origin. Humor in narrative for example is something that developed in me through reading both Zelazy and Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Redemption of the villain is well rooted in Anthony’s Incarnations books. My all-time favorite book, The Once and Future King by T.H. Whyte, showed me that even dry legend can appeal to modern sensibilities if it is worded in a lively and engaging fashion. The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley, though not a work of fiction (all criticism and meta-commentary aside), showed me how an character can evolve in narrative as well as in events. Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents was an educational trip not only in the perspective of relating to a story through another gender, but also through a filter that was not entirely Germaine to my experiences (or so I thought).
When I try to take in the totality of my influences, I’d like to think I am unique among them because I borrow and steal from all of them. I don’t live in a bubble, and I didn’t independently invent writing, so as I embark on another long form writing project (or ten), I give heed to the writers who have helped form my craft. Of course, this isn’t all of them. I probably couldn’t list them all—and I certainly didn’t make a hit list of writers that have shown me what not to do. That would be a painful list to compile.
So, now that I’ve shared with you, I pose the question to all you writers out there (and indeed you readers, too), what creators influence your style?