Sunday, February 7, 2010

Influences and the Subconscious in Writing

Inspired in part by the blog of writer, B. Miller on what happens when we write in the zone...

Influences… influences. A writer doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Even if as we set out to tell our story, our influences will creep into our work, through word play, plot structure, characterization. As novice writers we may start out mimicking those authors we admire, but eventually through struggle and attention we grow beyond the copycat stage.

However, our subconscious is a very powerful force. The authors we admired were probably the reason we wanted to write in the first place. So their influence may be even more powerful than we think. Their voices, word choices, and styles creep in… without our knowledge, without our permission, perhaps even to the point of an exact phrase.

After those in-the-zone times when the story writes itself and we can’t type fast enough, we stand back hardly remembering the process – that’s our subconscious. Weeks,and months before, our subconscious worked out the details based on many factors which are part of us, but are deep below the surface. We may not recognize our favorite authors’ hands in our work until months or years later. But as in my writers group, we can point out when it happens to each other. Brian can spot Fowles in my work; I can spot Tosches on his. I spot Stephen King in Becky’s writing and I’d actually feel grateful if she could spot Poppy Z Brite’s in mine.

Eventually we develop our own voice with just a hint of our influences as we merge and meld the various styles of the authors we read over and over. We imprint our own mark which rises to the surface of its own accord.

I write the books I want to read but can’t find. Perhaps they haven’t been written yet, or not enough of them for my personal hunger. So it becomes my job. To write those missing books.

Shaman Circus is one such book. It some ways it’s an amalgamation of styles from my favorite authors, but not as much as I’d like. I wrote it after a period of writing short stories and didn’t intend to write a novel, but the characters took hold and the subjects were too important for me to handle with brevity. Simmering in my gullet were all the news clips and personal stories I heard regarding Katrina and New Orleans, my 2nd favorite place in the world after Hampton Village, NH.

I started the story as a tale of shamanism, a subject I had researched for years and was researching a good bit at the time. When I started writing it, the main location was not New Orleans, and the main character was the protagonist, Alex Hampton. But the character I originally assigned as the antagonist, Jacob LaGuerre, hijacked the story and took it where he wanted it to be played out – the tortured landscape of New Orleans. Sure I’d had a lot to say about the Katrina aftermath, but I wasn’t ready to tackle such a subject in a short story, let alone a full length novel. But Jacob is more adventurous and driven than I am, and he hijacked me as well.

Yet you may still find my influences. To me the story is not written in the style I’d most like to write. It’s not lush with metaphors, it’s not as many layered as I’d like. But after a heyday of writing for me in the early 90’s, I went to work as a photojournalist at the local newspaper and it killed my writing style, beat it into the dust. After I left the newspaper, it took me years of flat and failed short stories to relearn how to write fiction.

I’m not ashamed of those influences showing up – to me it’s more like a homage (even when they're unconscious), much like many filmmakers do with a nod to their teachers, their mentors, directors such as George Lucas, Alex Pyros, or Stephen Speilberg.

So I don’t mind if my influences make brief cameos in my writing, – a bit of John Fowles, Poppy Z Brite, Caitlin Kiernan and hints of Neil Gaiman. They are some of the writers who swept me away.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly what you mean about writing the books you can't find. The project I'm working on is something I haven't seen anywhere... horror plus magical realism plus fantasy plus complete weirdo psychological freakout... not doing any of this on purpose either, it's just what the universe wants me to write.

    Keep it up, Gail, you're amazing. :)


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