Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Influences on My Writing Style

Last night on Twitter, I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn't come up with a post for your regularly scheduled Writing Thoughts segment. Then, lo and behold, the talented Cynthia Reese suggested I talk about my writing influences. I figured: "what the heck, I've got nothing else to discuss." And besides that, if you're reading this collection of random ramblings you might want to know about who I can think can rub two words together the best. (Then again maybe not, but I'm nearing 100 followers and figure I've got some breathing room.)

To say my writing influences are many and varied is kind of like saying Thai food is spicy. If you've never tried Thai food, you really really need to. Pad Thai is my favorite dish -- with peanuts and shrimp and rice noodles -- oh so very good. Excuse me while I clean the drool off my keyboard.

Anyway, in the interest of time (and word count), I'm limiting myself to the five major authors that I can say most influenced my style. The reason for this is mostly because these are the authors that I've read multiple books from; every book I've read influenced me, but these five writers more so than others. So here goes:

Glen Cook

Glen Cook is well-known among fantasy readers as the author of The Black Company series of books, among other military fantasy stories. His recent series, The Instrumentalities of the Night, takes place in a world torn apart by religious factionalism and battling against the forces of the Old Gods for control of civilization. The Night, in this context, is the darkness of the Old Gods and their agents. 

Cook's fantasy has been described as "Vietnam War fiction on peyote" by several reviewers, and is some of the sparest, tautest writing you'll ever see in a fantasy novel. Heck, the only reason you even know you're reading a fantasy story is because he talks about gods and magic. Pull Else Tage, the hero of the Instrumentalities books, out and drop him in Arabia of the Middle Ages and boom you've got historical fiction. 

I've borrowed a lot of Cook's sparse writing style, particularly for fight scenes and for my more militaristic characters. He's one of those authors who's never written a massive bestseller, and yet has quietly changed the face of fantasy fiction irreversibly. 

David and Leigh Eddings

The husband and wife team of David and Leigh Eddings wrote the Belgariad and Mallorean cycles -- both about ancient prophecies and how sometimes no matter what you do the prophecy comes true. Their characters carry a uniformly biting wit and refuse to let the main character get away with any sort of childish silliness. Their characters Belgarath the sorcerer and his daughter, Polgara, served as both guides and "controllers" for the main character of both novels -- Garion, who was Polgara's many-times great nephew, and Belgarath's many-times great grandson. 

The Eddingses created one of my all-time favorite redeemed hero characters too -- a thief named Althalus, who ended up saving his world from a dread god's servants with the help of the goddess of fertility (who would later become his wife). 

J.R.R. Tolkien

Most every fantasy fan has read either The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia as their introduction to the genre. I'm no different. Tolkien was my first introduction into the wonderful world that fantasy opened up, and I've never looked back. If you want a world of brave warrior kings and hallowed halls of ancient law standing against encroaching darkness, then you could do much worse than Tolkien's Middle-Earth.

Stephen King

King's The Dark Tower series has offered a lot of the dark flavor my writing's taken on in recent years. Prior to when I started reading those stories, I tried to focus too strongly on the "good" side of the good guys and on the "bad" side of the bad guys. Now, after reading those stories, I find myself much more interested in the darkness and light that all sides have. 

You'll notice that Moriah, my heroine in CALLARION AT NIGHT, is not the nicest person in the world. She's been betrayed one too many times to keep putting herself out there, or so she thinks, and keeps people at an arm's distance through her (admittedly) bad attitude. She is a hero though, and will do heroic things to save those that need it. Like Roland Deschain, except without the whole letting a boy die because saving him would deter you from your goal thing. 

Terry Pratchett

And now we come to the grandmaster of humorous fantasy. Pratchett's Discworld novels are some of the few that I reread over and over again. He lovingly skewers the tropes of fantasy and science fiction, with a skill borne only from someone who knows the styles and cliches backwards and forwards. His sarcastic brilliance has influenced my own snarky characters, and I plan on using Ponder Stibbons as a basis (along with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who) for the revamped hero of SON OF MAGIC. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I thought I could write mystery stories for awhile, and for that I place the blame squarely at Sir Conan Doyle's feet. I devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was younger, loving every adventure of Holmes and Doctor Watson. Still now, if you hand a book that even obliquely attempts to mimic the Sherlock Holmes stories I will read it quicker than you can say Banana Biscuit. 

Conan Doyle's sparsity and logical thrust had a massive influence on my own. Because of his writing, probably more than any other, I find myself leaving out more details than I put in. Of course, later authors have helped to mitigate that tendency. In particular, King, Cook, and Pratchett have crafted tremendously vibrant worlds. In fact, it was Pratchett's detailed description of how much food Ankh-Morporkians consume on a daily basis that really struck home how hard it was to create a fictional city (I think it was in Night Watch he did this; unfortunately I don't have the book in front of me).

So there you go, dear readers, the five primary influences on my writing style. Other authors that I've adopted things from have included Cherie Priest, Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher, China Mieville, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Gail Carriger, and Brian Jacques. And then of course there's the fantastic writers, both pubbed and unpubbed, that I've met through the blogosphere. There are far too many to name.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You've just reminded me, I need to put more Pratchett on my TBR list.

Am I the only one that's had difficulty with C.S. Lewis? Not conceptually - I actually enjoyed reading Mere Christianity more than some of his Narnia books. And I love the Narnia story itself. But some of the books in the series (we've read them all, but A Boy and His Horse comes to mind) were so difficult to plow through that I was secretly hoping the kids would give up and move on to something else. Unfortunately, they loved it.

Adam Heine said...

I picked up a small amount of humor from Pratchett too. I definitely need to read more of that.

And, Susan, A Horse and His Boy is my least favorite of the seven. Don't feel bad.

Cynthia Reese said...

Thanks, Susan! I thought I was the lone ranger who wasn't in love with C.S. Lewis's Narnia. Like you, I don't have a problem with the CONCEPTION.

And Matt, I count both King and Doyle as my influences ... isn't it great how authors can influence writers across genres?

Matthew Delman said...

Susan --

I liked The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but those were pretty much the only ones I read in the series.

Adam --

I easily own about a dozen Discworld novels, each of which I've re-read at least that many times. Pratchett is very much my humor.

Cynthia --

That is awesome! Knew you had good taste in books. ;) I think King and Doyle are so influential for so many people because there's something for everyone in their stories. It's dang hard to hit that bar, but when a writer does it's amazing to see.

Bill Cameron said...

Reading C.S. Lewis is like suffering blunt force trauma to the mind.

L. T. Host said...

I'm almost done with THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES right now! Picked it up because, you know, I'm writing a mystery... and it made me remember how much I actually like those stories. You have some solid influences, my friend!

I'm tempted to do something like this myself... hmmm...

Joshua McCune said...

Loved D. Eddings growing up. Definitely an early influence, and someone I tried to emulate early on... nowadays, not so much. Still find his writing entertaining, but at times his characters a bit repetitive (not Robert Jordan level, though).

Patty Blount said...

Great post! More to add to my To Read list...

I love Sherlock Holmes, have recently become a Stephen King fan and slogged through LOTR... am looking forward to learning more about your other influences.

Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Now, while I LOVE The Belgariad, The Malloreon, and all the Sparhawk epics, The Redemption of Althalus was too much like their earlier stuff, and too light on actual tension to really do it for me. Still, the Eddingses are very, very cool writers.

And Terry Pratchett. He is, quite simply, awesomesauce. His Discworld series has actually become more satire than farce, which is where they started. I think they're the better for the transition, though pretty much everything by Pratchett is fantastic.

Great selections, good sir! I think now I shall have to look up Glen Cook.

Matthew Delman said...

Bill --

Sometimes it can be. I can't say enough good things about The Screwtape Letters thought.

L.T. --

Yes, tell us your influences. I'm interested to see this.

Bane --

Yeah, that's why I stopped reading the Eddingses' works. Their characters were the same across multiple books and I couldn't stand it.

Patty --

I'm weird in that I'm ONLY a fan of King's Dark Tower stories. I don't read any of his other stuff.

Simon --

I only read the Belgariad/Mallorean cycles and Redemption of Althalus, so I didn't get the same repeat-feel until I picked yet another of their stories.

Also: Good point about Pratchett.

Natalie said...

That is a pretty broad list, Matt. I think that's a great thing (and I love that you put Gail Carriger on the list--she is hilarious).