Thursday, February 08, 2007

Undue Influence

So I've got a huge list of futuristics on my TBR pile that I'm itching to read and am afraid to touch. Why? Because I'm afraid of undue influence.

It's not that I'll steal plots or plagiarise writing. It's the fear that some detail I read somewhere will be absorbed into my subconscious and appear in my writing without my knowing. So if my heroine is inexplicably being obstinate and rude, it might be because she's being influenced by Cherijo, the protagonist of StarDoc - who's alive and kicking in my imagination.

No-one's immune to a case of unconscious hijacking, but I'm usually hyper-aware of being unconsciously influenced and make a conscious effort to veer away. On the other hand, I'm also conscious of the old adage 'There's nothing new under the sun'. The same way that Star Wars may have influenced some of my scenes, it may have influenced a ton of other writers in different ways. Some may be writing works of breath-taking genius, whilst others are churning out the same old derivative pap.

I've read enough romance novels and science fiction and fantasy books to understand the conventions of each genre. But when does a 'convention' become copycatting?

While striving to avoid undue influence I've often developed a major cause of writer's block. I've often been frustrated by a story idea having to be thrown in the bin after a similar story being released by another author - who no doubt picked it up from the same idea store I raided in the nebulous ether.

So when does the striving for originality become an exercise in futility? And finally, does it really matter? Isn't the author's individual style and voice the only thing that really sets us apart?

Answers in a postcard to.... Just kidding! But I would really like to know what you think.


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

I worry about this also, but I'm trying to put the anxiety aside because I've read so many books that were similar to each other that I've begun to realize striving for complete uniqueness is an exericse in futility.

I don't read as much as I'd like to for this reason, but still I believe that we all have our own take on things. Write what moves you, and if you feel its derivative when it's done, edit the crap out of it [literally] and make it your own.

Lynda K. Scott said...

I've seen this very thing done--and the similarity is so strong there really isn't any doubt. Mind, I'm not talking about plagarism, just borrowing 'ideas' so to speak. And it worries me too because I tend to remember most of what I've read.

Skylar Masey said...

Include me in the bunch.

As everyone says there are no new ideas, only twists that make the characteristics your own. Writers (especially you girls) surprise me with your ingenuity, so let your imagination build on what you see or read.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

Well, George Lucas admits that Star Wars was a take off of Akira Kirasawa's Seven Samaurai, so there ya' go.

I generally have the opposite thing happen to me. I write something and then read something similiar somewhere else afterwards. Like for instance, Falling Stars, the novella I have coming out in July by Red Sage has nanobots in it that infect the heroine and take her out of commission for a while. At the library yesterday, I picked up a Prey by Michael Crichton and read the flap...(Never having actually read the book before) and damn if it isn't about killer nanobots released into the atmosphere as a virus. I'm glad I read that flap now that the gallies are already done and buried, but I don't want anyone thinking that I 'borrowed' that concept from him. I love MC's work and look forward to reading the book I did check out by him, "State of Fear" but...well, damn.