Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Choosing Our Stories - A Choice at All?

How do we choose the stories we write? And is it a choice?

It's an odd question, I know. Of course it's a choice. We can write it, or not write it. Simple.

But is it? I've been thinking about how many people were surprised I wrote fantasy novels (even more than I expected), and I thought I'd write a bit about that, because I think it has larger connections beyond me. Or, at least, I'd like to find out if it does.

One of the reasons I write fantasy is becasue fantasy was first. That's what started it all for me, my mom convincing (read: forcing) me to read Tolkien's The Hobbit. This, of course, led to The Lord of the Rings, and entire worlds beyond that.

Fantasy was my first love. I read other stuff as a child, too, moving quickly from the Hardy Boys to Agatha Christie and Dick Francis. And some Sci-fi and horror, of course. And smatterings of other things. But it always revolved around fantasy, particularly of the epic sort. Magic, monsters and swords. And towers. No fantasy novel is complete without some sort of tower. (yes, I have a tower in my novel, I admit)

And maybe this doesn't seem like much, but I think it's important. First things, especially if loved and deeply invested in, are important. Indeed, they're influential. They create patterns and imprints in the mind, and this was certainly the case with the young reader I was.

Fantasy novels became part of how a growing mind conceptualized the world, how I framed and interpreted it. It influenced, subtly, how I understood the story of my own life. My values, my experiences, my wants and needs, my desire for replica swords (or real ones - you know, just in case).

These stories were what first inspired me to write, first set stories of my own circulating inside my head. And this genesis of a creative interest is hard to leave behind, I think. My creativity is, in some sense, tied to these stories, these patterns woven through me. My reflections and thoughts on the world are still somehow reflected through a mirrror of the fantastic and strange.

Certainly, as my reading tastes expanded my choice of stories to write expanded as well. I read more literary now than anything else, and I've written a lot of that. But I'm still drawn to those original stories, the sense of the fantastic, and, yes, to magic, monsters and swords. There's such a pure sense of creation, of wonder. They activate, in a sense, the child's imagination within me, that need, that demand, to explore, to find and devour the strangeness of existence.

These stories are part of me. I don't think I could escape them, even if I wanted to. And I don't.

What about you? What did you start with, and what kind of an imprint did they leave? Do they still influence your writing?

20 comments:

Marsha Sigman said...

My brother babysat me when I was five and let me watch Stephen King's 'Carrie'. So began my life long facination with the man and his writing.

But yes, fantasy/paranormal will always be my first love and the one I gravitate to the most. I think we never lose that desire for there to be something more than our own reality.
Awesome post.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Marsha!

And King was one of my first loves, too. I haven't read him in years, now, but I keep getting drawn to copies of Under the Dome... it may just happen.

Candyland said...

I tend to write what I know/lived/that haunt me from the news. I write about things that will stay with the reader long after, good or bad.

Taryn Tyler said...

I relate to this post a lot. Everything I write seems to turn itself into fantasy whether I mean it to or not. I think, for me, the poetic truths that literature cirlces around are easier to find when the tangible reality you create them with don't have to be real. If that makes sense.

H. Grant said...

My first love: Lord of the Rings.

But I was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up hearing the nuclear war air-raid siren go off every Wednesday at 11 a.m., for practice, you know. My father showed me the old Twilight Zones with little tales about nuclear war. Nukes and real-life scary things find their way into my sci-fi/fantasy.... and they're much scarier than angry dragons.

jbchicoine said...

It was Nancy Drew for me, and ever since, I love a good mystery and love to incorporate the unexpected in my stories, though I don't write mysteries...

Matthew Rush said...

I would say that you are probably right, except that I started the exact same way. The Hobbit, then LOTR, were the first books I read, after pop read them aloud to all of us. Amon Rudh is my favorite tower.

Thing is I don't write fantasy. Well, I guess you could say there are elements of it in my novel, but it's certainly not traditional. I think it's only because I'm afraid I can't do it well enough to match up with those stories I have loved so much.

I have magic, and I have monsters. I even have swords, but I think the YA label allows me to convince myself that I am a good enough writer to get away with it.

CPatLarge said...

Interesting question. I realize now that I started with an old Hardy Boys set in my grandfather's bookcase, moved on to Nancy Drew, my mother's Agatha Christie and Perry Mason collections,and never really looked back. While I've been through the cozies and the PIs, the police procedurals always draw me back with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series the notable exception. My four novels (all at various stages of completion - I WILL finish one, soon) are all mysteries with a large police procedural component.
And since you asked, those early choices may have influenced my career as well. I spent eight years as a police/fire dispatcher/jail matron and another six as a deputy clerk in federal court.
Funny how those things all mesh without conscious thought...

M.A.Leslie said...

Great questions, as for me I prefer to write suspense/mystery now in the adult book world. However I am working on a MG fantasy story that I am quickly falling in love with. So much so that I am writing it again another way.
I started off in fantasy too and the MG that I am writing is for my kids to read. The Hobbit was a start for me also, but so was A Bridge To Terabithia.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Definitely science/science fiction for me, all the way - in books/film/TV, in career choice and general enjoyment. Everything I write has some science/military elements in it. Even when I try to write something else, it ends up being SF-tinged. It's just how my brain works.

I think you're right to go with it, not fight it. Let it have its expression.

And you've touched upon the heart of why I write for kids - because those stories are SO influential on young minds. They have staying power. She who rocks the cradle, rocks the world, applies to kidlit too. :)

Elena Solodow said...

When I first read Harry Potter, I was fascinated by the idea that in a real setting, there could be all these fantastical elements. And that always grabbed me. The "behind the scenes" fantasy, you could call it.

Dawn Simon said...

Stories with talking animals were HUGE to me as a kid, and I read novels with animals well into high school. (I was also totally into classics once I got my first taste of them as a teen.) When I started writing as an adult, I had to really stretch myself to write humans. These days that's all I write and most of what I read, but I still love a great animal book! :)

Ted Cross said...

Whoa! Everything you just wrote here could have been me doing the writing. This is exactly why I write fantasy (though no towers in mine yet). Too bad your fantasy book isn't in our crit group!

Amie Kaufman said...

When I was a kid I'd lose myself in fantasy novels--they just took me somewhere else, and I'd imagine myself in every world I read. Corny, I know, but true. That's what I write now, and it's definitely because of those early experiences.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Interesting! Loving these. It seems there's a pretty strong occurence of that initial reading imprint carrying through to the stories we write.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I wonder if I went back and read the stories of my youth, if they would have the same impact on me now. Hm....

WritingNut said...

My stories have always been YA and contain some magical or mysterious element. And somehow, I've never wandered from that path :)

Marlene Nash-McKay said...

Amazing post! Coincidentally I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the books / writers that have inspired me to write. I too listed Stephen King (The Stand) and LOTR as well as Jeffrey Archer (Kane and Abel), John Jakes (North and South)and John Irving (Until I find you). What do these have in common, I ask myself? Epic journeys. Personal growth. Change. Movement. I personally tend to write about characters who change dramatically and who I force through circumstance to re-look who and what they are.

Chris Phillips said...

I started with a lot of John Grisham books, which is not really what I write.

JM Leotti said...

My earliest influences were Pippi Longstocking and a series of books called Katie John. Both of these characters were tomboys with detective skills. To date I write mostly about girls who are rough and tumble and whose fathers are absent or dead. Was I attracted to these stories because of who I am or did they influence how I thought about life? Probably a bit of both, I'm guessing. I also loved the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Lequin. These books definitely had an effect on what I write now.

Always something to chew on in your posts! Thanks!