Are you WUI – Writing
Under the Influence?
By Amy C. Goodwill
Amy C. Goodwill
We've all done it -- finished
reading a book by an author we admire and said, 'I want to write a book like
that.' Whether it's because you enjoyed the way they pulled you into the
story, the style in which they wrote it, or perhaps one of the themes --
such as vampires, for instance, or a thriller or romance -- you want to be
And there's nothing wrong with that feeling. Inspiration comes from
everywhere, and who knows -- one day the author's name may be the one below
the quote on the cover of your new bestseller. However, it's all too easy to
find yourself WUI -- Writing Under the Influence -- that is to say writing a
book that is almost the same as the book you want to emulate.
Let me give you an example: a
friend of mine is a very dedicated writer, and has bundles of talent -- but
whenever you look at what she's recently written you can nearly always guess
exactly what's on her bedside table right that minute. The style and theme
gives her away at once. 'Ornate, archaic language? You've been at the
Tolkien again, haven't you?'
You don't want to be an author
whom readers can identify as definitely having read this book or that book
-- that isn't originality. As a second example, I have a great and abiding
love for a novel I read online by an unpublished writer. When I first read
it, it totally wowed me. It was only later, when I started reading Laurell
K. Hamilton's 'Anita Blake' series, that I realised the online novel was
very strongly influenced by the other work. It was all too obvious that that
the writer had read that series first and been affected by it in her own
writing. While her own work still had a great plot and great characters, a
lot of the themes and ideas were ones that had been published years before.
So how do you know? Have
another look at your project (yes, I know it's your precious baby, but it's
necessary). Then compare it to the books you have been reading recently,
those by your favourite authors, etc. How many things are the same, and how
many different? Could you read their books, then your book, and feel like
you'd been reading the same story, just in two different covers under two
If you do find yourself WUI, it's time to sit back and look at your project
again. To what extent has your story been affected by this influence? And
what can you do about it? If the plot is almost identical (no two plots will
ever be perfectly identical, but look at the parallels), then you need to
seriously think about how to overhaul it. If it's only that the main
character in both the published novel and yours is a blacksmith, for
instance, or both of you like to use short, sharp sentences, you don't need
to worry overly much. It's all a matter of degrees.
Do remember that it is possible for two writers to come up with the same
idea totally separately. One of the more bizarre examples is that in both
England and America, two cartoonists simultaneously created a comic about a
mischievous young boy known as Dennis the Menace. Neither even knew the
other man existed. It's hard when this occurs, because you don't want to be
accused of copying the other person, but it happens. Go on with your story,
since it's genuinely your own.
There is a good way to go about emulating your favourite authors. Sit down
and look at the novel you enjoyed, and work out the aspects of it that
really caught your imagination. Perhaps it's a theme, or the feel of the
relationship between two main characters. Maybe you like the perspective
given. Reading the online novelist started me on first-person writing,
which works better for me than anything else I've tried, though I never
would have given it a go myself if not for that book.
Once you've found what it is that grabbed you, think about why it
did. Did it appeal to your sense of fun, keep you hanging on the edge of the
seat in suspense, make you longingly wait until the times when it reared its
head again in the novel? When you understand why you liked it so much, you
can then start to think about how to use it in your own work.
And you can be safe in the knowledge that you are writing your own thing, as
original as you are.