Influence Maps

Influence Maps

Influence maps are a popular exercise among artists. The basic concept is to make a collage of all the art and artists who have influenced and inspired your work. A friend of mine made a book cover influence map to show the authors and series which have influenced her writing. I suppose an equivalent exercise could also consist of the passages and poems which most inspire me to write. But I’m lazy; tracing my influences back to the beginning would be a long, arduous process with hours spent digging out my favorite novel bits or book covers and then I’d end up with something so massive and bulky no one but me would ever read it. To spare us all the slog, I’ve narrowed my list to the five authors I feel have influenced me the most and I’ve focused on the last couple of years, the years in which I’ve been writing seriously.

5. Mercedes Lackey

Books which have influenced me the most: The Valdemar Series, most specifically “The Mage Wars” Trilogy and “The Last Herald Mage” Trilogy and the book “Firebird” (which is unrelated to the Valdemar series)

What I love about her work: Mercedes Lackey’s work is largely character driven. I read once that her philosophy is ‘drop a mountain on a character, then make it better.’ That philosophy certainly shows through in her work. She often depicts her characters at the darkest and most desolate periods in their lives. It’s never easy for them to turn things to their advantage and often, when a solution is in sight, the past will come back to haunt someone or the situation will take an unexpected turn for the worse. But always she focuses on how the events affect her characters and how the characters get themselves through the situation.

How I feel her influence: I’ve always felt that characters are the center of any piece. The world they live in matters and it’s great for that world to have motion, action, and consequences beyond what’s going on in individual character’s lives, but if you don’t care about a character then you won’t care about their story or the world they inhabit. When I write, I try to focus on my narrator’s involvement in events and how those events make them feel. Are they reacting in the moment to things that are happening? Are they taking the time to sort out how they feel? Are they happy, sad, angry, torn? My early experience with Mercedes Lackey’s work, developing such strong attachments to her characters, helped me understand how to get into a character’s head and make them meaningful to a reader. I try to bring that to every piece I write.

4. J.R.R. Tolkien

Books which have influenced me the most: “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy and “The Silmarillion”

What I love about his work: The lore of Middle Earth is vast and sprawling. It only takes a glance at the contents of “The Silmarillion” to realize that J.R.R. Tolkien knew everything that ever happened at every point in the timeline of his world. Events in the past influence the future, always building on each other. By the time the main story takes place, there are years of complex history behind everything in motion. He wrote an entire book worth of back story on how everyone and everything came to be in their proper place, including the sun and moon.

How I feel his influence: What fantasy author can claim no influence by J.R.R Tolkien or the Lord of the Rings universe? The fact of the matter is, it’s a staple of the genre, the platform on which epic fantasy is built. And pretty much everyone who writes high fantasy has to admit they draw inspiration from the series or something that was originally inspired by it.The greatest influence I feel from Lord of the Rings is the vast scale, the idea of turning the world in which the characters live into a character itself, with history, perhaps even motivation and characteristics of its own. “The Silmarillion” is, perhaps, the greatest world-building guide any writer could ever read. Seeing the way events are intertwined with their history made me realize that good fantasy worlds don’t just fall fully formed out of your head. They aren’t created by sitting down at the keyboard and typing a few sentences for a few minutes; they’re grown. They start as a tiny seed, and if you give them the love and care they need to nurture them, they’ll grow into something truly amazing.

3. Anne McCaffrey

Books which have influenced me the most: The Pern Series (Especially “Dragonflight,” Dragonquest,” “The White Dragon,” “All the Weyrs of Pern,” and “Dragonsdawn.”)

What I love about her work: My love for Anne McCaffrey’s work is harder to pin down. I’m not sure what, exactly, I like about it. Perhaps just the way she told her stories overall. I love the characters, I love the setting, and I love how things come together. I highly enjoyed “The Tower and the Hive” series as well, but for me Anne McCaffrey’s crowning achievement is the core Pern storyline. There’s something about it that has always spoken to me, and it isn’t just the dragons. I love the blurring of genre lines (Pern is science fiction even though the first several books read more like fantasy novels). I love the distinctive characters, and I love how all the elements of the story come together to make the whole.

Of course, I also feel the series fell to pieces when it was handed over to Anne’s son Todd McCaffrey, so whatever qualities she brought to the books, he certainly didn’t carry on with them.

How I feel her influence: Anne McCaffrey was the first author I considered my favorite. The first author whose books I wanted to read over and over, and the first series I absolutely HAD to have every single one of. I hunted obscure short story collections just to have every Pern story ever in print at one point in time. The Pern series also has a special place in my list of influences, because it was the first novelized world for which I wrote fanfiction. Pern lends itself well to fanfic authors (which is why there’s such a large and thriving community of Pern RPGs and fanfiction sites) because it has an easy set of core rules and a formulaic set of events which provide easy inspiration for an aspiring author. Some of the first characters and story bits I was ever really proud of came from my Pern fanfic days.

2. C.S. Friedman

Books which have influenced me the most: “The Coldfire” Trilogy

What I love about her work: Everything. But aside from the amazing characters, settings and stories, I love her writing style. There’s something about C.S Friedman’s work that draws me in with the first sentence and never lets me go, not even after the last sentence. I don’t say this often, but I find her books very hard to put down. They flow. Her writing style feels both fluid and vivid. Even years after reading them, there are pieces of her books which I can still picture vividly and re-reading the passages always calls the same brilliant image back to mind, even if it was one I’d forgotten.

How I feel her influence: Every writer needs to find their own voice, so I won’t say that I emulate C.S. Friedman’s work; that would be a bad thing to try. But if I had to pick one author whose work possess the qualities I would most like to imbue my writing with, I would pick hers. I would like to be able to paint vivid pictures with my words in the same way she does, and I try to keep that in mind while I search for my own unique voice.

1. Neil Gaiman

Books which have influenced me the most: “Stardust,” “Neverwhere,” and “The Graveyard Book”

What I love about his work: I’ve read relatively few of Neil Gaiman’s books compared to the other authors on this list, so it might come as some surprise that I chose him as my number one influence. My best friend is a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and he hounded me for years to read his novels (eventually buying me a few so I’d bite the bullet and, of course, now I’m glad I did). I’ve said this before; Neil Gaiman has a flair for the dark and whimsical. I was so/so on his work until I read “The Graveyard Book” and I’ve been irreversibly hooked ever since. “The Doctor’s Wife” is also one of my all-time favorite episodes of Doctor Who (which says a lot because it falls outside the period of my all-time favorite doctor).

How I feel his influence: Interestingly enough, Neil Gaiman’s work isn’t his biggest influence in my life and in my writing. Neil Gaiman was the first author I started following on Twitter and Tumblr, and I feel I’ve been greatly enriched by reading his posts. He always encourages people to follow their creativity, insisting that writing has no rules. He even encourages his fans to write their own fanfiction to explain unresolved elements of his stories. His attitude about doing what’s right for you, following your path, and never letting anyone get in your way have inspired me as much as his amazing stories. And if I ever have a fraction of his success, I hope I can be as practical, honest and good to my fans.

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