Thursday, March 9, 2023

On the Shoulders of Giants

 Are there books you love so much that you find their tone creeping up in your work? Where is the line between homage and plagiarism?


By Abir


There’s an old adage that to be a writer you need to first be a reader. Most writers, I think, are voracious readers. It goes with the territory after all. Reading not only widens our horizons, but for a writer, it also helps us better understand the craft and the possibilities of language, setting, plot and character. A lot of writers were first inspired to write after reading a particular book that touched them deeply, maybe a book that made sense of the world for them, or which took them on a journey of plot twists and adrenaline highs. 


For me there are certain authors and certain books which stand out: books which influenced my views; books I became engrossed in; books in which I saw myself and which helped me understand myself a little better. The ones that stand out are George Orwell’s '1984', Jhumpa Lahiri’s 'The Namesake', Martin Cruz-Smith’s Arkady Renko series, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels and Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. These writers and works have, in different ways, brought me joy and informed me about the world and about myself. They’ve all influenced me in different ways. My love of crime fiction may not have started with Gorky Park, but it was certainly cemented by that book; and I’ve said many times that I would probably not have written my Wyndham and Banerjee books if I hadn’t read Philip Kerr’s work.


Yet I don’t write like them. I can’t write like them. I’m not sure I would want to. Writing in the style of another writer might seem like a guide when you first start writing, but I think it quickly becomes a straightjacket. I’d worry that it would limit your ability to experiment, to adapt and to grow as a writer. I imagine the vast majority of writers feel the same. That’s not to say we don’t learn from our heroes; of course we do. Our favourite writers show us what is possible; what we should aspire to, and with enough luck and talent, what we should hope to one day eclipse. And if we ever do reach that point, we would have done so in large measure because of them and their works, because they are the giants whose shoulders we’re standing on.



Josh Stallings said...

Brilliant post. “Our favourite writers show us what is possible.” They stretch what we see as possible, allowing us to go beyond into the new possible. So much of this takes place for me in the subconscious. I’m not always aware of influences until some one points them out.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Josh said it — a brilliant post. Well done.