Friday, 22 June 2012

On Influences on Writing

Hello again, dear readers!
What's that? It's a little late for a Friday update? Well I suppose you're right but I'm the writer and you're the anonymous audience that doesn't get to have an opinion so there!

Today I wanted to look at influences.  One of the key things I've repeatedly heard during my life is that you've got to read before you can write - that reading is crucial to understanding literature (no matter how unconsciously) to the end of writing it.  This being the case, it follows then that what we read will influence what we write (probably because it's a favourite genre/style/etc.) Now, of course, one of the first things that comes off of this idea is the thought that you might just end up rewriting what you've read; or even just go along the lines of 'there are no new stories being told, just reinvented ones - (which a part of me is still rebelling hugely against.)  The thing of it is - yes, of course you could just end up becoming a regurgitator for stories but the fact is that imitation is a) a form of flattery - it emphasises how we appreciate the original; b) a practice of our own skills, no matter if the main ideas are just copied; and c) a potential gateway to creating your own works - through that work over someone else's.  I'd need to verify this and give you a quote to back this up but I remember hearing that the way Raymond Chandler got into writing crime fiction was by reading earlier crime fiction and then rewriting them as he would have done it.  It was mere imitation but it was good enough that he could go on to become one of the greats of crime fiction today (and a personal favourite for that matter.)

The important thing though is still that there is a progression past that first point of imitation.  Not to knock the entire 'genre' of fan-fiction but it is a prime example of how we take what we love and add our own spin on it.  However, fan-fiction, by definition, can only go so far; and writers have to go further to realise the potential they have.  You have to (to put it a particular way) deconstruct what it is you really love or love about the original, then, once you've realised that, go on to play around and off that idea to create something born from real, true passion/love.  If you love science fiction - why?  Do you love astronomy in general, technological progress, robots, speculative history, or do you just plain like spaceships?  Say you like technological progression, spaceships and robots, (which, yeah, I guess could all be put under the same term but shush) then there you could have freedom to play around with a universe that has spaceships with robots constantly running up and down it all the time.  Perhaps onboard is a science lab working on prosthetics, maybe that work hits a breakthrough and so it's first used on humans, maybe that first use goes horribly wrong and the ship and the crew are all threatened by the malfunctioning prosthetics - etc. etc.  Because of what you love you can create something you will also love.  It's a little like people; (in the old model) because you liked the person you were with you had a child with them because there was more to love; a child that is the product of yourself and the person you loved, that has been genetically crafted by the you and your partner, will be shaped by you, but is still essentially a separate creation altogether.

It may well be worth your while then, is all I'm saying, to look at what you read, what you really love to read, and to examine it a bit in order to create something you truly enjoy.  Of course we are all more than the sum of our parts but that is where we begin.  Human beings aren't just cells but we begin as cells that go to make up bones and muscle and flesh.  Science-fiction isn't merely spaceships and robots, but it can begin with technology that becomes robots and spaceships and artificial intelligence and the concept of humanity and the idea of a soul.  And so on and so forth.  Passion, love, enthusiasm, leads us to eagerly create more of what we love.  Consciously looking at what we really have a passion for is just good sense, then; and, in my opinion, being aware is a good thing.

Until the next time I rush something out to damage your eyeballs with,
I've been Neil.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, 15 June 2012

On Books

Dear readers, I must apologise for my shocking absence of late.  As usual I have no great excuse but that I have been inattentive and just generally useless.  I am especially sorry to have missed updating this blog last week as I very much wished to take a moment in commemoration.  But some failures are given second chances so let's try again with today, shall we?

I would like to say hail and farewell to one of mankind's great writers; not just of Science Fiction but of literature at large - the most estimable Ray Bradbury.  Whenever I thought of the great SF/Fan writers of the 20th Century - Mr. Bradbury was a dead cert. for the list.  Whenever I was afraid of the way of the world and of us falling into a dystopian future, his name came up.  Whenever I thought about books, the importance of reading, of learning, of putting hard work into writing - his was one of the names personified, standing over my shoulder as I wrote my essays.  Ray Bradbury was awesome and an inspiration.  Mr. Bradbury, may you rest in peace.

In light of my finding this out last week, I embarked upon making up for lost ground in reading Ray Bradbury's work that I had missed in the past, (not through wilful ignorance but through missed opportunities).  Ironically enough, when you think about how Ray B. spent most of his time, I couldn't find his books in the library at first but the clerk was obliging enough to make sure I left with a couple of his books.  And so began the immersion into the wonderful imagination of the Illinois-born wonder.  Needless to say it wasn't long before I realised how wronged I had been by no one forcing me to read his work when I was younger.  Even at school, after coming away having read To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought I'd had a good if modest start to a literary education - if only I had known what I'd missed.  But anyway, enough sycophancy and regret, on with it.

"...Do you know why books like this are so important?  Because they have quality... texture... pores... The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are... The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a hand over her..." (Fahrenheit 451)
 My point today? One that I've already spoken on to be honest with you - that good literature is full of life.  Essentially: you have to live life to write well, I guess.  Through experience we can be inspired.  Which, in an odd way, just makes sense, really - the Romantics (I think my personal favourite 'group' of poets) all wrote poetry based on the what they felt, what they say - what they experienced. 'Upon Westminster Bridge' only exists for goodness' sake because Wordsworth was sat in a carriage in London, in the morning, seeing the city in that particular way; he experienced London. And not in a touristy kind of way.  Experience gives us something to work with: emotions to reflect on, actions to describe, places to go back to and moments to relive.  To me, that was the crux of what Ray Bradbury was saying there.  Maybe in ten or twenty years I'll look back on this and go 'Oh no, I had it so wrong' but I guess that will be the point - I had to live those ten/twenty years to come to that realisation/revelation.

Live life because, apparently, sometimes it's simply the best thing we can do.

See you later,