Voice and Influence

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about our writing. She made the comment that when she was working on her novel, she wouldn’t let herself read because she didn’t want to start sounding like someone else.

I was kind of surprised to hear that. I mean, I can’t go for more than a few days without reading a book. And I tend to feel so personally about my characters that I can’t imagine them taking on someone else’s voice.

But I do remember reading Eragon and being really annoyed that he had the main character communicate with the dragon in his head. I had written a book with a girl main character who spoke to her dragon telepathically. And I wrote it long before Paolini’s books hit the shelves. (Mine will remain on the shelf, too. It was one of THOSE kinds of books!)

Nathan Bransford pointed out yesterday that there are very few original ideas out there. Which basically means that as writers, we have to find unique ways to tell similar stories. As agents and editors would say, you need to have a compelling voice.

So here’s my question. How much are we influenced by the stories we’ve already heard? And how much are we influenced by how they are told? If there’s really nothing new under the sun, what can we do to make our stories stand out?

Okay, so that was actually three questions. Anybody have the answers?

17 thoughts on “Voice and Influence

  1. I am influenced by more than books, – movies, speeches, plays, etc etc. Its hard for me to read while I write too. I feel like when Im reading, I should be writing!

  2. I don’t think your questions are that applicable to me as a PB only writer. I of course read tons of picture books daily (I have two kids in preschool) and it doesn’t interfere. But I imagine if i were a novel writer, it would. I can’t even read two novels at the same time!

  3. Just write as yourself. There isn’t any other “you” out there.

    I am writing a story in which the main character talks to her animal companion through her mind. Would that be telepathically? Hadn’t thought about it.

    My first MG novel is about a boy and a dragon. Wrote it before Eragon appeared. The boy and dragon actually speak to each other, though. No telepathy involved.

  4. Hmm. I have no idea how to answer your questions, and I struggle with the last one of how to stand out. I think it involved <>how<> you tell something… voice and how you play with an idea, etc.

    And unfortunately, my brain is derailed and shot from tiredness… or I might have more thoughts. 😛

    *squees with net and is happy to be able to follow your blog properly again*

  5. Good questions. I too, read in spurts, just like I write. I’m doing more reading now than I am writing. It’s hard not to be influenced by what we’ve read. I think it helps us learn and grow, especially when you’re reading something really good. The last question is the real kicker — if anyone knows the answer, I’d love to hear it. 🙂

  6. Okay, probably everyone’s sick of me spouting Donald Maass, but..I agree with him on this–there is nothing new, when you write it down as a sentence or two and look at it. But when you take it and make it yours, with your perceptions and your layers–then it’s new.

    I’ve heard some writers talk about not reading–I cannot go there. Besides, I should be “always” writing, right, so when would I read? 🙂 The only times I’ve had to stop reading something specific were–once, when I was immersed in the Princess Diaries series, my 13-year-old male hero started sounding an awful lot like Mia. Also, when I started thinking about my historical YA, I read a lot of historical fiction and had to stop–I was finding some trends, voices I DIDN’T like, and I was afraid they would seep into my own writing. Other than that, I read, read, read!

  7. I think Nathan answered it pretty well in his blog post about how we can make our stories stand out – tell them in a new, unique way. And since we are all different, it is a matter of testing our creativity. We should be able to be unique if we let it come out…

    I don’t read much while I’m writing because I simply don’t have the time. I really try, though.

  8. Wow, someone told me the exact same thing the other day – that they can’t read while writing. I try to read stuff of a similar ilk, but when I’m deep in writing, my reading goes way down.

  9. Shelli – I can relate to the guilt!

    Corey – I’m reading three books right now! Of course, the one I love best I finish first…

    Rebecca – Good point. And I guess we both like dragons, huh?

    Merc – Glad to have you back!

    Rena – I definitely go in spurts, too. But I can’t not read.

    Becky – I’m so with you (of course)!! The only time I remember reading changing my writing was when I was reading a dry nonfiction book. Then I had to stop because my writing became boring!

    Glam – Pushing ourselves to be more creative is key.

    PJ – I would also say my reading goes down when I’m intensely writing or editing, but it never stops. Love the new cover avatar!

  10. As an artist I think it’s VERY important to absorb all things that inspire you. Sherrie, you are unique, strong and definitely have your own style, so when your thoughts form to tell a story, surely it will be all yours!!

  11. Great question! I think that it’s important to use your experience and thoughts to influence your character. That’s part of what makes your character and his/her experiences unique. After all, if every human being can be so basically the same, yet have so many of their own fascinating stories, why not draw from your own uniqueness to “color” your characters.

    just my 2 cents. (or wooden nickels)

  12. Great question! Really great. I agree about the nothing new under the sun. I named my blog The Things We Carried thinking it was original, it would describe the beauty and the pain life carries for each of us.

    One day I received a comment on my blog about The Things We Carried, and that my title was like that author’s..YIKES!! Honestly I had not heard of it. Now I have. I googled it immediately. Still, I never intended to use another writer’s idea, and would not intentionally do so.

    I read all the time. ALWAYS.

    Good post and food for thought!

  13. I used to have that worry too – about reading while I write. But now I think that reading while I write actually improves my writing.

    I guess that is, if I’m reading something really good.

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