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Homages and literary borrowing

After my rather frivolous post yesterday, I started thinking more about homages, and how other stories have influenced my writing in general.

I heard it said (somewhere, I don't remember where, and I think the person who said it was quoting someone else) that every writer starts with fanfiction. I don't think that's literally true (though I must admit my first stories--dictated to my mom and then carefully illustrated with crayon--were in essence My Little Pony fanfics), but it wouldn't surprise me if most writers start with stories that are at least less than skillfully done homage.

For ex, one of the first long stories I wrote was a complete rip-off of Robin McKinley's THE BLUE SWORD. I didn't take *everything*, but I took all the story elements I loved--discovering a hidden talent within oneself, the training stuff, the coming to understand and even love a people you thought were the enemy--and back then I didn't know how to take all that stuff without taking large portions of plot as well. So if you were to read that story, you could easily pinpoint the moments that are exactly the same as the moments in THE BLUE SWORD, just with different characters and a different setting and (obviously) different wording.

By the time I wrote my first novel, I'd gotten a fair bit better. But I still did some significant borrowing. The three main characters, though different from their namesakes in all but name, were Sorsha (I have loved Willow a long time), Rydia (via Final Fantasy IV), and Pathlan (via my mangling of a name in one of the DEATH GATE CYCLE books). I also stole a device from a DEATH GATE CYCLE book in order to make a fade-to-black love scene happen. And in general, the thing was a mass of genre cliches.

With both stories, I could see right after finishing them that I'd been too lazy, relied to much on my reading and not enough on my own imagination, and each was banished to the far corners of my hard drive. But they were still good practice, in writing in general, in figuring out what I wanted to write about, in building a plot and characters, and all sorts of good stuff like that.

That was thirteen years ago, and I've come a pretty long way (I hope!). I think the longer you write, the more you get to know how to make the story your own, even if you're inspired in certain ways by other stories, or you're drawing in techniques you learned while reading other people's books. You learn how to make something a homage, or to twist it until it's completely your own, with just the feeling you wanted to keep. But I suspect most of us start writing because we love reading, and so what we're reading can't help having a pretty heavy influence on those first efforts.

Anyone else have embarrassing book-borrowing tales to share? :D


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
This is all I'm gonna say:

L.J. Smith's The Secret Circle meets Christopher Pike.
May. 16th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
That sounds like fun! :D I was a big fan of both authors as a teen.
May. 15th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
Hey! I read the Death Gate Cycle. Good stuff.
May. 16th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
It is! I had a crush on Haplo for quite some time. :D
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
Yay for dance numbers! I vote that you resurrect it. ;)
May. 15th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
My first spinoffs came from Snyder's "The Changeling" and from a short story collection edited by Joan Aiken. I can't remember specifics but I do remember writing stories based on things I'd read, or trying to turn stories into plays. I read and reread that collection throughout upper elementary and middle school. At one point I elaborately strung together the incidents of one story with the lyrics to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

I wrote Dead Poets Society fanfiction before I even knew there was such a thing as fanfiction. I also wrote a lot of Christopher Pike/R. L. Stine knockoffs in which everything was haunted or possessed (dolls, lamps, gardens, etc.). Unfortunately none of those "manuscripts" have survived! I didn't start writing original stories till 6th grade.
May. 15th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
I wrote Dead Poets Society fanfiction before I even knew there was such a thing as fanfiction.

Me too! And The Outsiders. I think it was around 1989-91 (sixth & seventh grade).

At one point I elaborately strung together the incidents of one story with the lyrics to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
That is awesome. Do you still have it?
May. 15th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
No. They'll take away my MLS if I admit this but--I think I actually wrote my observations right in the library book. I used pencil and I wrote lightly, if that helps any. I wish I could remember the name of the collection and the story . . . I'll keep digging.
May. 15th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Found it! The collection is called "Handle With Care: Frightening Stories," chosen by Joan Kahn. I am wondering if the story I liked so much was actually from "Whispers in the Dark," a collection of short stories by Joan Aiken.

Future biographers take note, these two collections are goldmines if you're looking for some of my influences. I can't tell you how many times I checked both of these books out of the library. ;)
May. 16th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
I think I was writing original stories all along (not very good ones, but I wrote a bunch of really simple stories about cat characters when I was in first and second grade, for ex), but when I started trying to write for more than just fun, that was when I really tried to draw from books I'd read. I guess because I was less confident, and/or I sensed I couldn't quite pull off that great story I really wanted to write by my skill alone?

DPS fanfic sounds awesome! :D I think MLP was the only fandom (heh) I actually wrote in, but I spent many an hour creating fan-stories in my head for all my favorite books, TV shows, etc.
May. 15th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)

I've been writing original stories since I was small,but I also wrote stories that were influenced heavily by others or direct rip offs. It depended on my mood and how deeply involved I was with somebody else's fiction at the time.

In elementary school a lot of my stories were rip offs of Lois Lowry plots but with original characters.

After the fanfic years (mentioned above to libation), I briefly wrote mysteries that were children's versions of Hawaii Five-0 episodes.

Around 14, I began to find my own voice and never went back to copying others. That's also when I discovered writer's block.
May. 16th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, that writer's block thing. :P I think I started to find my voice around the same time. After I wrote that very derivative first novel (which I finished at 14), I was so embarrassed by it that I put a lot more effort into making something original after that. :D
May. 15th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, my.

I borrow from books I haven't even read.

Homage is different from borrowing, but as you were talking about it...

I did a The Hobbit homage in book three, and I think there's a Douglas Adams homage in all three books. Or maybe more of a hat-tip than a homage.
May. 16th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
I borrow from books I haven't even read.

Heh, me too! I hear some idea or element from some other story, and I'm like, whoa, I could totally do this other thing with that... :D

I missed the Douglas Adams homage/hat-tip. Must go back and re-read to look for it!
May. 16th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
Oh, rats, I took it out. Just checked the document to be sure. It was the number 42. I'm pretty sure it's in books two and three, though.
May. 15th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I still borrow ;) I think most of my books were inspired by another book I read that I wanted to somehow change -- my tsunami story came about simply because of LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. I wanted a disaster story for teens that was different from that one. If I hadn't read hers first, I wouldn't have written mine, I don't think.

And I have one book inspired by Ginny from Harry Potter (in a very non-Potter world -- and Ginny being what I thought she should be, I might add); my first two YA books were definitely inspired by Tamora Pierce's books (in a fantasy world that was still in medieval times) -- but hopefully I have gotten better at making the stories completely my own :)
May. 16th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, but that's a different kind of borrowing--the more professional sort I was talking about at the end. :) It's not like you're taking character names or exact events and putting them in your own book. I think some of the best books are written because the author is responding to another story--'this is the way I'd have done this!' :)
May. 16th, 2008 05:14 am (UTC)
I started out doing the fan fic thing along with original stories. My earliest original stories were rip-offs of MG series type books, from Babysitters Club to Ramona.

Then I started on the fantasy-comedy, clearly influenced by my favorite movies of the 80s, like Splash, Mannequin, various Steve Martin vehicles...particularly My Blue Heaven, which spurred me to write about gangster cats...I switched over to genies after seeing Disney's Aladdin.

Then I created the original incarnation of my current "world". At the time it was a combo of Xanth, the Nightmare Before Christmas and yes, Final Fantasy IV. (I had a ninja dude just like Edge and some callers, among other things.) That lasted just long enough for me to rip off Elfquest and the Mists of Avalon, which I think was THE WORST rip-off of all.

Even alongside the earnest ripping-off, I always did some comedic ripping-off, though...like the way two of my fantasy sorcery characters had quadruplets who were basically baby versions of the main characters from Seinfeld... Um, I don't really know what the heck my brain was doing back then. I just liked to mash together very strange combinations.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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