Influences and Inspiration

Today I want to talk about inspiration and our influences. It’s kind of a loaded topic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a two-parter. I’ve started to notice that I’m beginning to both outgrow my influences and represent a sort of synthesis of my influences. I was told earlier in my career that while my style might mimic other writers’ styles or other artists’ creations, if I kept working at things I would eventually develop my own style.

I was skeptical for quite some time because I really struggled to make that breakthrough. I would write something, re-read it, and it felt…well, it felt like I was emulating someone or something. In the mid-90s, I was emulating the sci-fi and horror writers that I was reading at the time: Clive Barker, Stephen King, C.S. Friedman, Ray Bradbury.

As I got into the late 90s and my beat period I started to emulate Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs.

The early 2000s were more representative of trying to bring a cinematic approach in the style of David Lynch, Daren Aronofsky, and Christopher Nolan (pre-Batman, of course).

It’s only in the last half of the decade that I started to see something I might call my own. Moving to first-person perspective has really brought my style out. I would say that the original draft of Torat is very close to what I was developing, but what I’m writing now shows a very distinctive lean toward my “own” style.

What this puts into my mind is…how does our work represent our influences, i.e., how much of what I’m writing now is influenced by King, Kerouac, Lynch, etc.? I can definitely see their influences there, and yet it’s kind of my own thing there, too. There are pieces of myself that manifest in day-to-day conversation that are only just starting to come over into my writing. Things that make me who I am. For instance, I use certain very descriptive metaphors that tend to amuse people,  in one podcast I said something smelled like someone had rubbed lemon all over their dirty ass.

It’s that sort of allusion or metaphor or simile – that style of detail and synthesizing these disparate items that come to mind when I think about something – that represents my “true” style, and it needed to come over to my writing. If I can come up with a character that has a bit of an attitude, I can quite easily transfer that over to a story. I mean, in a third person approach you can use that sort of style, but it’s a lot more difficult. For some reason I associate third person with a more stuffy, formal voice, I think. I need to feel that I’m occupying some character’s space to really let that loose.

I also see my influences coming together in my characters. For instance, the protagonist of Corridors of the Dead, Matty, is a punk rocker, which represents my musical influences. She has green hair, drawn from a character that I emotionally connected with as a child. Another character, Kristy, speaks like a Valley Girl, a pattern of speech that interested me in the 80s. Daniel, while exceedingly different from the character Desmond in Lost, has some echoes of him. None of these were conscious, however; the Desmond one may have been the closest, and that only developed over time. I do have some very deliberate references to the Dark Tower, though.

It’s this confluence of different strands of creativity that come together to create this unique thing. It’s something that I had trouble embracing for a long time for fear of ripping off other artists, but I don’t think that’s the case.

I think I’ve spoken about how when I got into Kerouac, I traced his lineage all the way back to Goethe. If you read the chain of influences in order, if you go Goethe->Hermann Hesse->Thomas Wolfe->Kerouac, you can see how that literary DNA carries over. It’s not a matter of not being original. It’s that what you consume shapes what you create. I guess in a way it’s the literary equivalent of “you are what you eat”.

I’ll talk more about how this works with story inspiration on Monday. Now for Music Friday! How about some Black Belles?

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  1. Wonderful blog! Great post. enjoyed your thoughts and appreciated you sharing them.
    C.K. Volnek

  2. To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Or, as one of my writing profs used to say, “Only steal from the best.” 🙂

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