Friday, September 21, 2007

Influence and Reading




You see next to these words books from series that are considered the greatest fantasy epics of our time. I have just been reading my brother's blog and some of his entries on Movies/Television and Reading Habits. It got me thinking about all the books I read, and about something I was thinking about several weeks ago.
Writers and Readers are closely related. I have to read to be able to write. In fact, it is because I read that I write. I remember that I didn't want to learn how to read when I was little, and I remember protesting when Mom made me sit on the couch with her for ten minutes. I remember reading a small, very easy chapter book about bugs. I remember reading Frog and Toad, and I remember reading Pony Pals. Pony Pals was probably what inspired me to write. This woman wrote about girlfriends who all had ponies, and who went on all sorts of adventures together. I wanted to do that. I would make up stories like this in my head, and then I would actually plan on doing it when I grew up. When I was young, I hated fantasy. I didn't like it, because I knew there was no way that my horse was going to wake up one day and talk to me. I wanted to write things that could happen. Thinking back I realize that what kids think are real are really fantasies that they believe in. I wanted to grow up and adopt wild animals, have as many horses as I could think of, as many dogs as I could think of, and every pet imaginable. I wanted them to all have sweaters and collars that matched, and I wanted all of them to be able to rescue me if I was ever in trouble, and for the dogs to beat all the sled dogs in Alaska in a sled race. These where things that could happen, but were very, very unlikely to happen. I remember thinking that one of the stories would be about somebody that kept stealing gingerbread, my favorite cookie at the time. But I was soon introduced to Star Wars. I grew up watching cowboy and Indian wars. My first movie was Hondo. :) Star Wars was fun and interesting when I got older. I thought it boring (except for Yoda, who looked like a green hairless chihuahua with a smushed-in face to me) and it didn't make any sense. I did eventually learn to like it. I remember that it took me awhile to like Dick Van Dyke too, but my first favorite episode was Never Name a Duck, because of the ducks in it.
But then, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia came along. Wow. I have fond memories of the day that I got my boxed set of Narnia from Brian for my 10th birthday. I remember picking up the Magician's Nephew, and how pretty I thought it was. (Yes pretty. The Magician's Nephew is one of my favorite Narnia books.) The cover depicted the Wood Between the Worlds and the two 'magic' rings. But I still didn't want to write fantasy. Reading it was fine, but writing it? No way possible. But then I was introduced to Lord of the Rings. The first time I saw the Fellowship, I closed my eyes when the Orks entered the screen. I watch the entire series without blinking now. Orks aren't all that scary to me, just very ugly and.....evil I suppose. I grew to love Lord of the Rings. It became my favorite movie (and still is!) and I remember the excitement of going to see it every year. And so a year ago April I started my own fantasy story, though at the time the world I was creating was bright and sunny and their was no conflict. I was basing the whole thing on something similar to the Shire, minus hobbits and hobbit holes. My character was to be a shepherd, and she was going to find a beautiful black horse and they would go on lots of adventures together. I made several tries on starting it, and I remember the one I finally settled on as a hideous piece of work. I started to read more fantasy books. Maybe what did it was reading through the Fellowship and The Two Towers. I'm actually mad at myself that I never made it through the Hobbit or the Return of the King, but they are both on my list of books to read and reread. Anyway, about a year ago, I decided that my book just wasn't enough. My characters were weak and immature, all the men in it were grumpy with bad attitudes. :) I didn't do that on purpose, but the easiest characters to write are the weak ones and the ones with bad attitudes. My main character, then called Elizabeth Jacqueline, was a terrible person. She was good, yes, but though I wrote her with brown hair, I pictured her as a strawberry blond. Yuck. (No offense to strawberry blonds, I think they are very pretty, but this hair color does not fit my character at all.)
I stopped, and wrote about 10, maybe 15 new 1st chapter versions. I've only just recently (last month in fact) settled on one. I was also permitted to read Harry Potter earlier this year, and I read through the entire series as I could get my hands on them. Libraries are slow.
A few months ago I realized something.
My writing is easily influenced by what I read. I had been reading modern books, like Harry Potter and Inkheart and Eragon. But my writing (and myself) needed older books. I realized how easily influenced I had been and since I had finished Harry Potter, rekindled my deep interest in the Lord of the Rings, the kind of influence I want for my writing. Harry Potter is good, but LOTR is definitely better. I feel like my work is being influenced by better things now that I am aware of how easily Harry Potter can affect the way I think. The story line and the general flavor of the fantasy I mean. The cheerfulness surrounding Harry Potter affected the way I write a lot, which might not be a bad thing, but I don't want my work to smack of Harry Potter. I got lots of new books for my birthday, so I can try new ideas. My book is a lot like Lord of the Rings, though I created a more civilized world. I have fun watching Harry Potter, or reading it. But I have to say that I go on lots of adventures when I crack open Lord of the Rings, or slip in a DVD. Lewis and Tolkien were masters, and I don't' think any modern fantasy writer will top them. So I feel that my books need to be reminiscent of Lewis and Tolkien. I'm not being a copy cat, but I don't want Rowling to be my influence, though she may have already, in ways. My castle reminds me a little of Hogwarts, my owls obviously do, but I just like owls. One book will be devoted to the owl keeper and my main character, along with the Castle of the Owls. Rowling only had an owlery. Owls were side thing in her books, but I think that mine will be quite different. Reading is a necessity to writers, and I love both. I just need to read more of the right books, though actually, I think every book plants itself in my mind, and thus depending on the authors I read, my book might take on a voice similar to there's. It's funny how much you can figure out just by reading novels. :)
Anna Elizabeth Hedges

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