Last 101 lesson we discussed gaining inspiration from direct sources, basically crafting tasteful fanfiction. Today we delve into the world of "no copyright lawsuit worries" inspiration drawing again from stories, movies, and TV shows, but using basics and not directly specific plot points and characters. Indirect influential inspiration is about using voice, themes, and imitating minor arcs.

Just hang in there, we'll get through it. Credit.

A note on voice: it is basically comprised of your world view, word choice, and narration style. No matter how much you try to copy another author's voice if you can write halfway decently your own voice shows through. If you don't quite know how to identify your voice try this trick: the next time you're swapping stories with friends, listen to how you do it differently. I know I give all background information first then describe action/dialogue as it happened. I utilize linear first person. I also have my strange mix of word choice using a lot of big words and a lot of archaic ones and peppering them with the white trash/ghetto speak of my youth. A sentence such as "Y'all remember that batshit gubernatorial race in Cali years back?" sounds natural coming from my mouth, but wouldn't from most others'. Of my friends, many tell stories also in a linear fashion, sometimes in third person, sometimes in first, and some focus purely on action and others on dialogue. Most are non linear, start in media res and hop back and forth with background info. Try it with your friends and you will see how we all have our own voice.

That leaves us with the question of how do you imitate voice? The trick is not to imitate one author's voice, but look at a genre. Some genres require specific voices (mystery, horror, futuristic science faction, and archaic fantasy are the best examples) and some do not (such as romances, coming-of-age stories, and humorous short stories). Now, can anyone tell me what the first group have in common that the second don't? in short the first group all have elements of the hero myth.

Most people agree there are nine overall hallmarks of the hero epic, but if you follow all 9 you just write a hero epic. If you want to apply the hero myth to a basic story, such as a cyberpunk story, you use the 3 most basic sections: separation, transformation, and return. Every author should have this cold, so if you don't go read The Odyssey and watch Star Wars (Episodes 4-7 only) and you will see how it goes: a hero must leave home, go through trials and tribulations to become stronger, then return to vanquish the threat. Separation, transformation, and return.

Since following that path means there will be specifics of  voice, get to know them. I'll list a few here:

  • Mystery: cynical detached protagonist, paranoia, snappy/insulting/terse dialogue, long periods of introspection after intense action, excellent perception of surroundings, period-specific word choice
  • Horror: detatched/conflicted protagonist, isolation/persecution, linear action, increasing conflict between characters, lack of perception to surroundings, word-choice relating to origin period of antagonist
  • Future Sci-Fi: arrogant protagonist, disconnect from society, abbreviated dialogue, paranoia, inaccurate perception of surroundings, wordsmithing (creating new terms/words to reflect a future that has not yet happened)
  • Archaic Fantasy: naive/trusting protagonist, friends: the cynic, the established hero, and the double-crosser/dubious aide; non-linear action, flowery dialogue, increasing conflict between characters, a mix of archaic terms and wordsmithing (more wordsmithing the further the story is from our reality), perception of surroundings increases with each stage of hero myth 
In whichever genre you choose read the greats, the cult classics, and see what they have in common. Read some of the bad ones too and see where they went wrong. Try to keep those things in mind and make your own list. Use that list to aide you in writing your 3 page summary, 30 page outline, character bios, and keep it with you as you write. remember to imitate the chorus of the genre, not one specific author's voice...unless you are really, really fucking good.

Sometimes charts do help. Credit

Themes may seem like something very similar, but they're not quite. There are only a few basic themes of all storytelling and mixing/matching them is how we get new stories. Basic themes are as follows:

  • The hero must rise (separation, transformation, return)
  • The villain must fall (inverse separation, transformation, return)
  • An extraordinary romance unites two unlikely people
  • A mystery must be solved at great personal cost
  • Innocence must be lost in order to survive and fit into the world
  • The choice between good and evil must be made  

Now seriously, think of any story; it has at least one of these themes. Often it will have two or more. One interesting thing I've found is that a romance can sustain a 90 minute film with nothing else but it can't sustain a book. I'm gonna make a confession here that seems out of character; I rather like the film "A Walk To Remember."  Weird for an atheist who doesn't believe in true love, I know, but it's so fucking cute I can't resist. I read the book after seeing the film and one difference is where the film touches on the male protagonists choice between good and evil/hero arc the book does much more so, using it to drive the plot by and large. 

Most romance authors are excellent examples of how to smash two or more themes together. For example all paranormal romances contain loss of innocence, and all contain either the choice between good and evil or mystery. When you're imitating an author what you'll be doing is going with their theme choice. Again, romance authors are creatures of habit. My favorite of the genre, Lori Handeland (that woman could write stereo instructions and I'd buy, read, and rave about them) has a specific mix. Both her male and female protagonist undergo the hero arc, but typically the male underwent it in the past (yet his "return" phase comes through the female protagonist in the story), and the heroine is undergoing it currently. There is always a mystery to be solved, and as the hero usually has his last stage come about through the female protagonist he must undergo the choice between good and evil. The heroine, aiding him, loses innocence. That's 5 themes per story. This is why I love that woman like a crazed fangirl. Since reading her I have tried to imitate that and if you read my story Hidden Magic you'll see the same 5 themes. Or A Harem Fantasy, or Fey World. Yup, I love this author too much.

Most horror writers smash together themes. There is the separation in the beginning, but the transformation is usually a result of conflict with the antagonist and the actual transformation is either a mystery to be solved (a la Graham Masterton) or a choice between good and evil (a la Stephen King) or both a choice between good and evil and a loss of innocence (a la Anne Rice). Know your genre, know your favorite author, and pay attention to how they use themes. It becomes a simple building block for you.

Picture perfect: 2 authors, 2 vampire stories, 2 totally different themes. Credit

Lastly we come to carryover arcs. Again on the surface this may seem to e the same thing as themes, but it's not. Arcs are the specific line of development for a character or plot. Themes determine this but arcs get specific. Let's say two authors write using a hero myth, and there is basic separation, transformation, and return. Where arcs are different is one author may use 7 stages of development for this path (like George R.R. Martin) and the other may use the full 9 (like Tolkien). In horror one author may have the protagonist slowly descend into madness (in the style of John Carpenter) or become strong enough to vanquish the antagonist (see every Michael Bay film ever made, and yes, with the right perspective most qualify as horror films such as "The Island"). In romance novels some authors have little conflict between the characters, making it so outside conflict is what keeps them from falling in love right away (Jude Deveraux is fond of this) and others have intense interpersonal conflict/flat-out dislike between characters (Catherine Coulter is legendary at how much dislike exist between her characters at the start of a story).

With arcs you do have to look at themes but first but what you're imitating is the progression and pacing of character development. You can write a Catherine Coulter style romance of intense dislike, but where her earlier stories deal more with loss of innocence you can have a mystery, or you can make it paranormal. Just pay attention to your desired author's work and the pacing of character development and imitate that. Overall plot can be different.

If you've been paying attention you should look like this. Credit

At the end of the day with indirect influences this is a background tool. The average reader shouldn't consciously pick up on it. It's a guidance tool for you, giving you a basic framework, but the details you fill in should be rich, and all yours.You might be confused but the key here is to read, read, and read some more. Watch movies and TV shows, and actively think about voice, themes, and arcs. Pay attention to how writers differ and find the style that appeals to you. Break it down to see what it is you like: the voice, the theme, or the arc? Choose wisely for imitating one gives birth to something great, imitating two or more is just crappy fanfiction.
Next week we continue 101 (all dealing with inspiration) and talk about how to specifically work all those loose ideas you have into fully-fleshed out stories. Keep writing and above all, keep reading!