Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Insecure Writer's Support Group- Acknowledging Inspiration, Nods and Influences?

I have no problems with finding inspiration; I'm exposed to a lot of it.  I read like a little addicted bookworm, I watch a fair amount of film and television (more of the former than the latter) and I am interested in various non-fictional subjects that I love to read up on and consume knowledge.  I listen to a various different music genres, which are probably one of the most stimulating things for me, creatively speaking, I admire many forms of artwork which sometimes compel me to creatre a story to reflect the images, and even the various video games I enjoy dabbling in will inspire me.  And if all those sources weren't enough for me, I also have what my fiance calls a "naturally occurring form of crack" that is found only in my brain, and gives me extremely vivid, bizarre and crazy dreams.  I have used them for inspiration in the past, and will continue to do so.

We are always influenced by someone else, and that is just a fact of life when it comes to anything creative.  Even if we produced something original, some of its soul will have come from elsewhere.  Even things that reflect on our childhoods usually also reflect on whatever media we absorbed at that age- movies, cartoons, storybooks, etc.  Some of my favourite things from childhood that I think influenced me creatively were movies such as Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, and books by writers such as Roald Dahl and KA Applegate's Animorph series.  As an adult, my influences have extended to include authors auch as Neil Gaiman (naturally), Phillip Pullman and Clive Barker, among a myriad of others, and films, musicians and games.

But do you ever get to a point where you worry if your inspiration is becoming more than just a nod to something that spoke to you?  Do you ever worry that your work is fast becoming more than just a tribute and becoming a rip off?

When I was in my pre-teen years, I used to spend the summer holidays writing lots of stories.  Heck, in my teen years, I wrote stories all the time.  There are several that stand to mind that, frankly, despite my pride in writing them, were practically plagirised from whatever I was interested in at the time.  After reading James Herbert's "Fluke", I suddenly churned out lots of little stories about people being reincarnated into black labradors.  Sometimes, one would even be named "Fluke", just for extra lack of originality :P Shortly after Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released, I began a short series of sci-fi stories about a Princess Amistable (not all that far off from "Amidala", not that I realised it for some time) fighting against some nasty space tyrants.  In fairness, that story had a certain amount of deviancy from the Star Wars universe that inspired it, but my following series, when I was in Year 10, was a blatant rip-off of the Dragonball Z Universe.  The first story basically was Final-Fantasy: The Spirits Within meets the Saiyan Saga.  What it spawned became slightly more creative, but picked huge elements from Akira Toriyama's creation. 

Of course, I was just a kid writing for fun at the time, and had no understanding even on the simplest level of how to get published.  However, despite my constant borrowing from other creative minds, my English teacher clearly saw the potential- he told me he fully expected to see my name on a book one day.  He also encouraged me to draw on my own experiences in my writing.

Some other stories have been attempted, and then trashed for lack of originality over the years, but my current stories, I do feel, are all my own.  All of the short stories I have submitted since the summer have been my own stories, even if they have had their influences (Moriko- Daughter of the Forest was definately heavily influenced by Princess Mononoke and Okami, but I still feel it was my own tale).  One of my short stories was definately my own - it was a retelling of a true event that happened to me after all! Another was inspired by a nightmare I had suffered.

Its mainly my novels I worry about.  I am nearly finishing the first draft of a novel I am titling "Night Gods" (this it the first time I have publically admitted the title, as I am so secretive* ), and on many occasion, I have wondered how to describe it.  Usually something along the following emerges: " a mixture of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Labyrinth, the Neverending Story and Silent Hill" (I love to put Silent Hill right at the end, just to interrupt the line of lovely, fantasy sources :P ).  A huge portion of Night Gods comes directly from my own dreams, but the other influences are there.  Music by my favourite band The Birthday Massacre also makes up the entire, secret soundtrack that I imagine when visualising the story. 

On a confident day, I know damn well that no one will have read anything quite like Night Gods before.  Despite all those influences, I know that the story comes very much from within me- it is a very personal tale, and reflects directly on personal emotions, experiences and observations.  On a not-so-confident day, I fear the story being compared unfavourably to the inspiration from which I cannot deny had coloured it.

I have to remind myself that this is NOT a bad thing.  This is not the same thing as copying.  Every writer does the same thing- some of the greats have admitted as much, time and time again.  Perhaps, its just because at this point in time, I remain unpublished as a novelist, and doubt my work.  Perhaps when it is completed and people have the opportunity to go on that adventure, I will see that I have sold myself short?  I certainly hope so. 

Most of the inspirations have become mostly aesthetic at any rate.  I have two more novel ideas, waiting in the wings after Night Gods, and both I used to worry were "copies".  The one that will follow was originally sparked into life by watchng the extended teaser trailer for The Devil's Carnival- the story that now follows barely resembles TDC in any form, but the imagery of that teaser trailer remains a strong element in my idea.  The other, the full-length version of my short story Skin is more original, but also has huge aesthetic influence from last year's blockbuster, Prometheus (although the stories resemble each other in no way!).  Obviously, I am very much visually stimulated- certain pictures and images spark off ideas that carry off on their own, and will go a very different path, even if they share the same colours.

So, the question I pose, is when you know full well you have drawn influence from another artist, what is the best way to handle that?  If you are confident that you have not ripped off someone else, merely accepted the influence and crafted something of your own, how do you appropriately nod towards the inspiration? 

I recently had a poem accepted, in which I reference two things- in the submitting email, I made a point of pointing those out, as I was unsure of whether or not it could be "allowed".  One reference was "Say your right words", a line taken directly from Labyrinth ("'Say your right words,' the goblins said"  as the line in the movie goes).  Another was a nod towards the film adaptation of Coraline- by mentioning that stones with holes are "good for lost things sometimes".  Now, I should mention the poem is about scary films influencing children when they go to sleep and see shadows on the walls, so it wasn't a case of me just ripping off dialogue, but clearly referencing something else :P. 

What is the correct way to acknowledge the inspiration or artist who influenced you and came before you?  Is there a particular way of going about it? 

So that's whats been on my mind recently.  I have to say, there is one thing that does come to mind that does set my mind a little bit at ease; I recently finished reading Clive Barker's Weaveworld.  Its an absolutely beautiful book, and at the end, little prickles of tears stung my eyes.  I was struck how some of the themes and elements remined me of Night Gods- however, I certainly can't have "ripped" Weaveworld off- Weaveworld has been knocking about for years, I only started reading it last year, and have been writing Night Gods for about three or four years now (yes, I am slow).  So I guess perhaps that a lot of authors and writers are simply wired in the same way- we think on similar wave lengths and certain subjects and possibilities occur to us, no matter how different from one another we try to be :)

(* I think being secretive is one of my problems.  I am nervous of sharing my work for various reasons, so without other people to take a look at it, I can't always be sure of just HOW original my ideas are).

Hope you all had a good January (mine turned out alright after I recovered- thanks for all the comments, and apologies again for the whiny-ness of that last post!) and happy February to you all :)


  1. I can understand what you mean with this, I think it is a fear many writers have. Night Gods sounds like a fantastic story!
    Great to meet you through the IWSG. :)

  2. Your work is probably always going to remind someone of something else... but that doesn't mean it will be a ripoff! Having inspirations is what helps shape our writing into something great, I think :)

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  3. I like to take the "love note" approach, where fans of the material that inspired you can pick up on a little nuance, but those who are not aware won't know the wiser. That nuance has to be in your own words, though, but I'm sure you know that. :)

  4. I wouldn't worry too much. The more you work on a project that excites you, the more something that is original to you will shine through, past those inspirations and homages that people will spot and smile. One tip I think that's worthwhile when you think that you're drawing too much inspiration from one source in a project is to toss in an element from something very different that you love. :)