Under the Influence

Whenever I read Chuck Palahniuk, my writing takes on his style; the minimalist writing with short chapters and grotesque subject matter. If I read Stephen King I feel like writing a long book, with deep characters with horror elements as well as supernatural themes. I get too influenced by what I read. A couple of Blogs back I was reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac and it had a profound impact on how that blog was written. It was disjointed, strange and had to be edited about five times before it made any sense. My girlfriend edited it and said it was hard to read and not my usual style, I told her I was harnessing the energy of Hunter S Thompson, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs.

I’ve always found it hard to find my own style of writing. I don’t really believe I’ve found my true, unique, style yet, strange as that sounds. Even though I have been writing for years and years, I am easily influenced by the book I read at that moment. I think this can be equal bad and good. A few of my books are heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy; the way he describes things in great detail, heavy on the weather descriptions with a loose storyline and minimal characters. I like that way of writing, I love his books and find it very easy to write like that. Even if I’m not reading a book of his, I can sit down to one of my books that I’m working on, read a few lines and the style will flow right out. I can pick up exactly where I left off. With Chuck Palahniuk’s style, it’s a lot harder. I have to get one of his books from the book shelf, skim through it, remember the way he describes things, situations, people, environments and go ‘ah yes, that’s right,’ and sit down immediately to write. That should not be the way to write, I know.

The only way to figure out your own style, for me anyway, is to not read anything for a while. I’ve done it before, but it doesn’t happen very often as I’m always reading. I’ve sat at the computer raw, with no inspiration from other writers, no influence and I’ve written. What came out was my own style, uninhibited. Looking back at it now, I can see all the areas I need to work on. I can see where I faultier and where other peoples work was evident. It was clear that moving the character through settings, such as down a hallway, or into a haunted house was happening too quickly. I would describe it briefly and move as fast as I could. In my book S.P.O.O.K.S II – The Ghastly Ghost Train, I had the young brother and sister moving through a museum, down towards the basement to check on a mummy that had escaped. I remember them getting from the front of the museum to the basement in only a paragraph or two. I barely stopped to explain their surroundings, their feelings, or anything. It was pretty much walking along a corridor, looking at a specimen in a glass tube, getting in the elevator and heading down to the basement. Thinking back now, if, or when, I do a rewrite, I would try and build suspense up a little more than I did. I would take longer describing the scenery, and this I think I have learned from Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. You could say it was a technique learnt, rather than imitating someone else’s style. On a rewrite I would have them sit in the car, at night, looking up at the museum with wide eyes, a full moon overhead, the caretaker shaking by the front stairs, holding a flashlight and stumbling over his words. I would make them walk to the basement, rather than get in an elevator, every step would echo and it would be dark, wherever they flash their torches they would see teeth and eyes of the museums exhibits.

Just recently I was writing Everdark Reals book two for the Aquillians and one of my characters is locked in a prison. He is told to look down the hallway at a large window (it makes more sense once you get to read it). And when I wrote it, I did exactly that, made him look down the corridor at the window. After thinking about it after a day or two, that one scene drew me back to the computer because I knew I had fallen into that same trap. I made it too simple, too uninteresting and boring and it was only one sentence. On the rewrite, I described the darkness of the hallway, the way the ground was made from cobblestones, the other cells along the walls and I made a rat with one ear scamper across the hallway and disappear through a hole. I could have said just a rat, but giving it only one ear, makes it a little more interesting. Giving the hallway mist and dripping moisture from the roof tiles gives you more of a clear picture, even if you only picture that one scene for three seconds.

I don’t think a writer can develop their own style without being influenced by what they read. I mean, that’s why we start writing in the first place. We read books that we love and think ‘I’d really like to do that,’ and once you start writing, you can’t stop. You could look at writers like Clive Barker’s writing and think that there is nothing overly unique about his writing. His words flow freely and it’s easy to read. You don’t get snagged on each sentence, like some writers. But the one thing that make Barker unique are his Monsters and settings. And this is his style. You read a Clive Cussler book  or Mathew Riley book, you know what you’re in for. You know their style, you know what to expect. When Stephen King tried to write under a pseudonym, everyone knew it was him, he couldn’t hide his style.

I tend to like writing kids/YA books because I thought they were more fun to write and they were something I would have liked to read as a kid. But now, I just think it’s closer to my style of writing than anything else.

Mitchell Tierney