Friday, June 13, 2008

Under the Influence, Part I

My influences, you ask? Who were they? Why, what a fascinating question!

My literary influences are nothing special by, er, literary standards. No Keats, no Pope or Shakespeare. Well, I mean-- Will influenced everyone, didn't he? He helped create modern English, so even if you don't write like he did, in a way you're writing what he did.

My third attempt at writing for real -- Firestarter 2 was the first, something quite pretentious and self-indulgent was the second -- was a long-ago first draft of the MO. And the writer I was most enamored with at the time was Stephen R. Donaldson, author of the Thomas Covenant series.

(I promise not to begin this paragraph with "my.") I'm not sure why that was so, other than I was huge fan of the series at the time. Something in the way he wrote -- I can only describe his narrative as urgent and insistent, which I'm sure makes no sense -- got to me, and my first draft of the MO was created using much the same template. Seriousness abounds everywhere; metaphorical exclamation points litter the landscape; and the humor that wasn't in short supply should have been.

I liked it at the time. I also liked SRD at the time. Neither infatuation lasted very long. (Though I do think SRD's Mordant's Need series is actually better than the TC novels; certainly better than the newest series, which is a little dreary.) From there my next influence was the aforementioned Stephen King, and it was because of his amazing ability to weave (often hysterical) humor into the most dreadful situations.

That made complete sense to me: life is often funny, even when bad things are happening. Though initially I took it too far, and actually stole a few of his literary devices. He doesn't do it so much any more, but his earlier books were peppered with what I would call instances of creative sub-narrative, which comes out
(do you like it?)
looking a little like that.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. A little blatant in the middle of a narrative, perhaps. So over time my personal homage evolved into something a little more subtle, like this example from early in the MO, where my heroine is recalling a happier time with her mother, while just beneath her thoughts another memory bubbles, not so happy:
...she remembered the first time she’d gone swimming after her mother left. The dog had scared her out of the pond: an old, slat-sided mongrel, trembling with hunger. She’d seen it there on the bank and it had just scared her, no reason. She’d screamed and run out of the water naked, but her mama wasn’t there to laugh at her this time. Her papa came up looking angry and dangerous and she said I’m sorry papa that ol dog just scairt me and her father said you little dirtyslut and slapped her so hard she went down on her back in the dirt going around naked as a jaybird and kicked her in the stomach before she could roll up and protect herself I won’t have people thinking I can’t raise you right and he grabbed her hair and pulled her close and she could smell the drink on his breath and he said are you gonna listen to me now Amelia honey?
And I hadn't intended it at the time, but that semi-stream-of-consciousness/sans punctuation thing just kind of happened on its own. I think it displays urgency, without needing to describe it. I like it. A lot.

And around the same time I began experimenting with a more naturalistic and casual style of narrative writing, when the situation called for it. My dialogue had always been like that, with all the ums and buts and pauses that dot the conversations of real people; while the narrative around them was as smooth and elegant as I could make it.

For example: the POV character in this example is a 12 year old girl, and while there would have been nothing wrong with continuing the narrative style I had been employing all along, I instead tried writing it the way a younger person may have written it. I like the way it came out:
Her mother was sitting at the table, reading some sort of gothic that was being passed around from tent to tent. Alyssa had no idea what it was about, but the one time she’d picked it up her mother snatched it right away and told her she was too young to be reading books like that. So obviously the book was full of good stuff, and she was going to have to be a little sneakier next time.

Her mother was huge.

Alyssa thought about the night when her mother had told her about how babies were made. It had been a month after the last time her father was home, and her mother had been very anxious for her to know. She’d told her daughter she was going to have another brother or sister in a while, and she thought Alyssa was old enough to know how it was done. They’d waited for a private time at the washrooms, and then they took a bath together. They both sat on the edge of the basin, and her mother had pointed and told her what that was and what that was for and what that did; and Alyssa, who’d been starting to get ideas of her own, was amazed. So her mom and dad had done that when he was home, and now her mom was going to have another baby. Wow. After she got to know Carin she thought about telling him, but she though that might not be a good idea. Besides, he probably already knew.
It seems to work; I like that too. A lot.

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