Monday, July 5, 2010

Reading Other Fantasy

I mentioned in the last post that I'd been listening to author podcasts from the Sydney Writer's Festival. In the last one, the interviewer mentioned that many authors go out of their way to avoid reading other fantasy while they're writing, out of fear their work might in some way be influenced.

I must confess, I'd never heard an author author say that before, and it got me thinking. My aim this year is to read a book a month, almost all of it fantasy. So far I'm right on track, perhaps even a little ahead. I've read Garth Nix, Cindy Pon, Duncan Lay, Sean Williams, John Flanagan, Alison Goodman, and I've got a whole host of books sitting in a pile waiting for my attention. I've learned something from every one, whether it's some kind of style tip, or something about world-building, or an example of how to build tension or vividly describe a scene. I'm a firm believer that one of the most important aspects of growing as a writer is to soak in the work of the experts, to see how they do it, and emulate what you can.

The tricky thing, of course, is to do this while still maintaining your own unique style and voice, and I think that's where a lot of authors decide it's easiest not to read anything. And I know exactly what they fear. If I look back at some of my earlier drafts of GPL, I can tell you exactly what I was reading at the time. When a bumbling wizard appears on an island, talking about IME's, or Indeterminate Magical Effects, I was reading Harry Potter. When a witch appears, and insists the main evil protagonist plant a kiss on her cheek before she gives away any information, I was reading Discworld. And when Dillen makes a decision that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be a betrayal of his friends, I was reading the Hobbit - specifically the bit where Bilbo gives away the Arkenstone.

I like to think that I've gone past that, however. Surely by now I've put enough words on the paper and sprouted enough gray hairs to be able to recognise when somebody else's style is creeping into my writing. Surely.

But is it still there? What if it is, and I can't see it, and in five years time I'll look back and recognise bits of all the books I'm reading this year and cringe horribly?

And now, I'd be really interested to hear what other people think. Do you avoid reading other works while you're writing? Have you found stuff from your reading creeping into your manuscript unbidden?

Don't be shy! Fire away.


  1. I don't avoid reading while I'm first-drafting per se, but of course time constraints tend to have the same end effect anyway...

    And yes, stuff is always creeping into my writing unbidden, particularly with my don't-outline-just-throw-stuff-in-as-it-occurs process. But I find it's normally just surface-level, a patina that sits just atop my own normal voice, and it all falls out during the editing process, so I never worry about it :)

    (By the way, I tried to check back on the last post I commented on, but for some reason it's not showing any comments. Don't know if it's a bug with my screen or not, but if you're wondering why I didn't answer back, that'd be why...!)

  2. Hi Deb,

    I couldn't stand it if I had to stop reading while I wrote. After a hard session churning out the words, it's sanity building being able to read something completely different. I'm pretty sure that any influences from my reading are, as you said, surface-level.

    Your comment is visible to me. Can you see it now? Maybe blogger is doing wierd things...

    (BTW, on the subject of reading other fantasy, I held Shadow Pledged in my hand today and fought a brief battle with myself. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop thinking about the already burgeoning reading pile, as well as the not-so burgeoning wallet. Soon, I hope!)

  3. I agree, reading is the best escape. Wish I had more time for it! Far more satisfying than the idiot box, which sucks time and zaps and saps the brain.

    Re the comments on teh previous post, I can't see ANY comments (even tho the front page tells me there's two there...) - not sure if it's Blogger or my system.

    And finally...look deep into my eyes... you WANT to read Shadow Bound NAO... you WANT to read Shadow Bound NAO...


  4. I'm so thankful Borders is closed....

    Yep, the comments are definitely gone. I thought because I could see the numbers they were there, but they're not. It's definitely a Blogger thing, one of the other blogs I read mentioned the same thing today. It's obviously spreading. Some kind of rabid comment eating virus.

  5. I've just switched it to use pop-up windows rather than embedded comments. Apparently it's less buggy that way.

    I'd use wordpress but that's supposed to have all sorts of problems of its own.

  6. Ah, I can see the comments now. Foolish Blogger!

    (I use WordPress, have done for about 5 years now, and I don't find much in the way of bugs etc, to be honest. Bugs and problems do crop up care of plugins not playing nicely together, though, there is that. Depends what plugins you want.)