Thursday, September 29, 2011

Inspiration vs. Influence

I’m an avid non-fiction reader. That may come as shock being that I’m a fiction author. Human nature, history and theories fascinate me. In the end, they are all the same: The first refers to why we do whatever it is that we do; the second, to the things that we have done; and the last, to what it is what we might be able to do. That’s why my fiction tends to spring out from reality more often than not. I love threading possible (sometimes plausible) plot using real elements. So when I decided to write a novel, I could care less about what has been happening in the world of thrillers.

Early on, an editor asked me why that was that the case? My answer was simple; I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone. Sure, there were literary influences in my writing, but the whole concept of “He writes like so-and-so,” or “his novel’s style is similar to this other book,” or “he’s the next (fill-in-the-blank famous author)” are anathema to me. Sink or swim, I want to be me. I want to have my own voice and style. Then the editor hit me with “Yeah, that’s all great, but you need to learn the rules of the genre.” To me, that just read “Welcome to Clichéville!”

Every genre has a checklist of elements that places it in its proper setting: The rugged guy with a heart of gold in romance; the tougher-than-nails-protagonist in action; the cunning detective in a mystery; these are not only needed, but expected by readers. As I went through the earlier drafts of my novel, I soon found out something interesting; it was going to take a particular kind of protagonist to affront the challenges presented by the plot. Otherwise the book would have been the length of a two-page essay.

As I checked out some classic thrillers, I found kindred spirits in some of their authors, people who had the same outlook about the world, loved similar themes and spoke with similar voices. Not surprisingly, whatever ideas I had, someone had done it first and better than me. But I wasn’t done with my little rebellion. Whenever they went right, I went left; if they preferred a straight line, I took off sideways. When all was said and done, I had a manuscript that was familiar enough to make thriller aficionados happy, but twisted enough to offer them something fresh, and all of this with my own voice. Keep on running!

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