Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Influence of our Heroes and Peers

Today's discussion thing emanated from a chat with author Nick Quantrill earlier this morning.

How far does what we read influence our own writing?  What can we do to retain and foster our own writing identity/voice in the face of such great literature?  How can we cut a path of our own?

I remember when I first started writing seriously a couple of years ago, pretty much everything I read affected me.  Whatever I was reading, that is how I would write: be it Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Terry Pratchett.  Anything.  It wasn't until I had the tried for the first time writing a story in first person that things changed.  My writing became influenced by the character telling the story rather than any outside agency.  The storylines became darker.  The material a little more off the beaten track. 

Then I found Ellroy.  He taught me you can write anything you want, in any way you want, as long as it has a point.  As long as it does something.  Three word sentences,. two word sentences.  Anything.  No rules.  Then I read Fight Club.  Blimey.  Fight Club. And BANG, it was all wide open.

But now I'm getting into the old stuff - Hammett, Chandler, etc. and I feel like I want to try my hand at a PI story.  But where do I start?  Has not the book already been written on that?  To craft an original detective without it being merely a derivitive of past influences, that's going to take some doing. 


  1. That a story--any story--has already been told a million times, means nothing. It's what YOU bring to the story that counts. What kind of WRINKLE do you put into the plot. What kind of PERSONALITY radiats from YOUR words.

  2. Think you're right, mate. I wonder if it is a case of exposing more of yourself through the characters and the story. The best writers, I'd imagine, are able to do this without the reader even realising.

    During my counselling training, I read a quote from a bloke called Wilfred Bion - a psychoanalyst chappie or some such. His advice to students was 'Learn all you can, then forget everything.'

    I like that. Sort of like the old learning the rules before you decide to deviate from them, I suppose.

  3. My criterion for an artist is that person's ability to respond to a request. The request is "Draw me that table right there" (substitute any word for table you like). If you can, then I'll accept any object you call art as art. If you can't, then you're bullshitting. My cites for having that view are Dali's Transfiguration of Christ (a perfectly drafted view of Christ on the cross seen from above) or Picasso's "blue period" stuff. For us I suppose it would be, "Show me you can wear the clothes of noir and then you can tell me where you took it and I'll believe you. Bit first, draw me that table.
    (posted by AJ anonymous because blogger's acting up)

  4. I love that, AJ. The drawing of the table thing. That'll stick in my mind for a very long time. Looking at Picasso's early stuff, you could see the genius right there. And Dali, bonkers though he was, drew and painted madness to perfection. Had 'The Apotheosis of Homer' hanging on my wall for years.