I’ve recently been reading Lee Child again, and it got me thinking, as intriguing books often doo—but what if I wrote something like this, but with a female lead, and set in the Balkans, and queer?
And then I remembered I’ve actually got enough ongoing characters I adore, and settings I have a lot of fun with, and my mind isn’t exactly… as precise as what’s usually necessary to write an action thriller. Or whatever the genre’s called these days.
Still, during the past few decades, ever since I’ve started having fun with fiction, I’ve occasionally caught myself thinking I really did want to write fiction similar to that penned by some of the people I’ve come to admire from a reader’s perspective. So I thought I’d take a moment to note a few occasions which make many of us want to write more, and to write better and, sometimes—just sometimes—write fiction more inspired by themes and settings and narratives our favourite writers hold dear.
“I wanna write like my earliest favourite fantasy author.”
The only problem is that a lot of people, as young writers, thought the exact same thing, and not many of them ended up differentiating enough from their favourite writers. The ones who did created history. The ones who didn’t… you know how it goes. I’ve recently discovered my favourite fantasy author had apparently influenced my writing a lot more than I’d previously thought—you know, that whole historical fantasy thing and shit—but my focus is still in different areas, because, well, I’m a different person. (The same way my favourite fantasy author is a different person—and, thankfully, a pretty different writer—than JRR Tolkien, no matter the fact that he, in fact, helped edit the Silmarillion. A long, long time ago, when the world was still young.)
“I wanna write like my all-time favourite author.”
Oh, wait, I already do write stuff heavily inspired by her, and people who write similar storylines, so there’s that. Since she is the single person whose fiction I’ve read the most often in the past twenty years, and am familiar with the most, I guess it’s inevitable, even thought I’ve never written space operas. The only issue remaining is whether or not I can live with myself when I catch characterizations and plot events in my own fiction which are a bit too… familiar. (Just because you can quote a Vorkosigan, it doesn’t mean you can plagiarize a Vorkosigan.) Luckily, as always, the more I write, the more new plots and character traits I seem to be coming up with. Oh, and, since I’m writing right here and right now, I won’t have to wait thirty years to note that a few of my main characters are, in fact, in a three people marriage. It’s already out there.
“I wanna write like the best wordsmith I’ve ever read.”
Ummm, no. For one, my sentences tend to be a lot shorter, since I’ve learned the hard way that keeping things simple in fiction keeps things easier to understand, too, for readers. Also, I hate vampires. And I’m an atheist. And I don’t have the self-discipline and patience necessary to go over each and every sentence I write several times before publishing. Sure, I like writers with good style as much as the next person—and will most definitely not read fiction by people who have no flavour in their prose, any flavour, really—but I’m still in this whole fiction writing thing because of characters and awesome plot developments, not… poetics. (Well, mostly characters. Oh, and angst.)
“I wanna write like the best romance novelists I adore.”
Well, duh, except… I don’t write M/M all that much. I’m not Australian. And not one of my characters has yet adopted a dog. (It would probably be a bit impractical since most of them are werewolves or living with werewolves.) I’ve decided I will keep myself content with writing fiction with a heavy (and healthy) dose of romance altogether, even thought I’m doing my own twists on them. (Inspired by several writers listed above, of course.) And, since I’m living in a society which hates all things romance (especially painful when you’re a librarian in said society), I’m proud to be joining their ranks at all.
“I wanna write like… anyone at all.”
Except I don’t. I want to write like me. To quote John Diggle from Arrowverse (if I remember correctly), I don’t have to be anybody. I’m already me. If all of us only wrote stuff inspired by others—beyond the initial urge to write and to write stuff we enjoy—nobody would ever write anything new. (Not even touching the old theory that nothing truly new ever gets written.)
So, the moment you catch yourself thinking ‘oh, but [INSERT AUTHOR HERE] does it so much better’, remember that a) they could never be able to write the story you’re going to write, b) some readers will think your story is way better than those written by people you’ve been admiring for so long you’re forgetting the bigger picture and c) you are going to be that writer to somebody. (If you write long enough!)
I’m gonna end this off by pointing out that I’ve recently read a great post on a subject quite similar—writing the books you’d want to read yourself (by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, here). Some of us have had stories to read the likes of which we wanted pretty early on. Some of us didn’t.
But we can most definitely make damn sure the next few generations have stories like that to read the moment they need, want or crave them.