Monday, November 30, 2009

Vorpal swords and derivation

'And his vorpal sword went snicker-snack...' - we all know where it comes from and the derivation automatically carries us to a certain mental setting for any story it is used in. Sort of instant setting-gel. Now this is a valuable tool (shared associations) for writers - but it is also a very dangerous beast because it is so infectious. Books - particularly when the author has a distinctive style and voice creep in to my own writing like memes-in-the-night. I try to work with this if possible - When I was writing the Karres books I read only Schmitz to try and be influenced by it (and in the last one I slipped and read an Andre Norton - I can SEE the influence). I use combinations of other writers to 'set' myself for other kinds of books. CS Lewis, Michael Scott Rohan, Peter Beagle, and McKillip, and a dash of Heyer for Dragon's Ring for eg. Or for Slow Train to Arcturus, Heinlein, Niven, Hal Clement. For Rats Bats and Vats - Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett, Niven.

So: am I alone in this, or do others find themselves writing derivative style and voice? And if so, how do you control it and who do you use?
I have fairly limited access BTW, so commenting is difficult for me right now.

17 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I can definitely 'hear' the author's voice in their books if I meet them first, then read their books.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

I've found that as I've started my own novel, there is a definite essence of Bernard Cornwell to what I write. Oddly enough, I haven't read any of his books for at least six months (a ruddy long time by my standards), but I guess that since I have been so influenced by him in my planning, its a bit natural for my sentence construction to be a bit like his too.

Its a worry, at times, since as authors we all naturally want to carve out our own little style and niche. That said, I don't think it can hurt as long as it remains an influence and doesn't spill over into out-right plagiarism of style. I'm interested to see what other people say about this.

Dave Freer said...

Jonathan - I find mixing other powerful influences in helps.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena - where that gets scary is when the book voice really isn't someone you want actually meet!

Amanda Green said...

Dave, absolutely. I have found if I read something even remotely similar to what I'm writing, if the author of what I'm reading has a strong voice, it tends to "bleed" over into my own work. Mind you, I wouldn't mind it if that voice happened to be someone like PTerry -- unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to channel him. ;-p I'm not sure how to control it other than to read other authors and other genres at the time. But that has its own problems...[shrug]

C Kelsey said...

I'm not so certain that a specific authors voice influences how I write so much as it influences *what* I write. For example I was on a marathon reading session of some Resnick and this guy named Freer (you may have heard of him), what did I end up writing? A story about a not-so-smart but oh-so-brave knight and a second story about an alien with no pants.

Right now I'm reading Torch of Freedom (when I can pull myself away from Assassin's Creed II). Oddly, the video game is having the biggest impact on me right now. For some reason it really reminds me of Shadow of the Lion.

Should be interesting to see if these influence me in any way. ;)

Dave Freer said...

Chris K - I'll take the blame for the alien with no pants ;-) sound like my sense of humor

Dave Freer said...

Amanda -I try to work with it -there are voices I want to have influence me - besides the ones in my head!

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I agree. There are those I want to influence me and that I'd love to work with -- yours and Sarah's among them. My trouble is when the other voice -- and unfortunately it is usually one that doesn't work for what I'm writing at the time -- isn't one I want to have influencing my.

matapam said...

Dve - Is this a nice thing to suggest to a woman who reads slush? I worry about bleed over, frequently. But I don't think my voice is too influence by constant exposure to every horrible style and grammar possible.

Dave Freer said...

oh noes! Matapam your doomed (my 'favorite' problem.)
seriously it has to be a powerful voice that you try subconciously would wish to imitate

matapam said...

Slush leakage is almost more a matter of "Well, if every wannabe writer thinks [Horrible Cliche Plot Mechanism] then maybe that's what all the readers want. Maybe that's the established form the publishers want."

Not to mention subconscious absorption of homonymitis.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, if I discovered a book like that, I wouldn't read it.

Serene smile ...

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, you read the slush pile?

You are dedicated to the genre.

matapam said...

Hopeless optimist, I think. When I started, the second manuscript I picked up was Chris Doley's Resonance. It gave me a totally skewed impression of the slush pile.

Kate said...

If I'm being influenced, I haven't noticed it - but then, most of what I write tends to have its own voice, and is usually weird enough that there's nothing else out there close enough to it to use as a guide.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I've read Dumas to "set" for the Musketeers -- though i find Dumas in French works best. F. Paul Wilson and Pterry for the Shifter books. Heinlein for Darkships. My Heyer binge is ALL too obvious in the British Empire series.
It's no use trying to say I'm not influenced. Perhaps not in my thoughts, but heavens, does it come through. I first found this when I was on a Sir Walter Scott binge as a teen and wrote a Portuguese paper... which was supposed to be dry and rational analysis. I think the teacher is still laughing.

BTW, on this, the best grade I ever had in History -- a perfect grade, which Portuguese teachers don't believe in -- came because of this. You see, I was reading Dumas and went in to the test to find myself confronted by a single question "What is mercantilism?" At that moment a demon possessed me. What emerged over ten tightly-packed handwritten pages was that the king and the cardinal were having their evening game, while discussing the musketeers and while monsieur de Trevile tried to generate doubt on the virtues of mercantilism.
The minute I came out of the room I went "oh, no. WHAT have I done?" I lived in fear for a week, until the teacher gave it back and said she had woken her husband at three am to read it to him because "it sounded just like Dumas." :-P