There's an old meme that goes around the f-list occasionally, asking people to list the influences that shaped their writing, artwork, or whatever it is they do. The easy, cop-out answer is, of course, "everything!" When you read interviews with writers and see the inevitable question, "where do you get your ideas?" the answer is always 'everywhere,' because life provides the experiences we draw from - and we probably unintentionally store the good ideas we see in shows we watch, books we read, or in visual art. I can only assume the meme is asking for the things you come back to again and again, or the things you fell in love with at age five, which are still with you today in some way.
I never do this meme because I have a hard time nailing down what my influences are. I know they must exist, but when I sit down and think about it, there are few names or titles I can say, definitively, had a huge influence on me. All I can give you is a list of things I really liked, obsessively:
1. Sleeping Beauty (the Disney version - shut up, I was a kid and their visual style is amazing)
2. Egyptian and Greek mythology
3. Star Wars (original trilogy)
4. Wheel of Time
Ouch. Maybe I have nailed down my influences.
We had a discussion about this with some friends, who were talking about Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. You can see a bit about it here. Basically, it's an expensive collection of motivational tips for artists, with an emphasis on allowing yourself to draw ideas and influences from other sources in order to grow and create your own work. I'm familiar with the concept, but how far you can take it is really up in the air as far as I'm concerned. I often find myself doing it accidentally, which drives me crazy, because the internet has placed a stigma on this practice - too much influence from another fan writer is copying. There are lines you shouldn't cross (for example, copying a scene point-for-point), and of course plagiarism, which I consider different from copying, since it involves pasting entire passages of someone else's work into your file, and 'copying' is more akin to reading a scene, and then trying to rewrite it in your own words.
But Kleon does have a point. In class, we were often told to copy classic or favorite writers to learn. You're supposed to "copy your heroes and their styles is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds" to "internalize their way of looking at the world" (36) Need to get a feel for pacing or dialogue? Copy someone else's paragraphs. Need to analyze a piece of fiction for class tomorrow? Write a fictional response to it - a sequel, you might say. In other words, write some fan fiction. I wonder sometimes why this is frowned on for writers; maybe because reading and digesting a text is more cerebral?
In any case, this caught my attention, because ages ago a friend made a post about the same thing:
Every other creative field you can name (art, theatre, music, dance) not only encourages but REQUIRES you to practice with other people’s technique and style. It’s accepted without question. No one even thinks to tell a new piano student that they can’t learn Chopsticks because they didn’t write it, or that they have to compose their own music so they can learn their craft. In art, we study other paintings and then try and replicate their style. How many beginning art students have painted from a photo? Or by using a grid over a well-known piece of art? (see the original post)
Writing is a strange art. People alternate between believing writers are magicians and thinking that it can't be that hard, because you can talk, can't you? If you can talk, surely you can write. I mean, everyone knows how to write. We do it every day. We know our own language. (Or do we.) Anyone can write a book!
And that book should be a completely new idea. You're a magician, aren't you?
The more I think about it, the more obvious Takahashi's influence is in my work - and that dovetails nicely with #2 on my list. He taught me how to draw inspiration from the mythologies I liked so much. In fact, he taught me that it was okay to look there at all, and inspired me to look at canons I had ignored until I experienced his work.
And I suppose I can blame Robert Jordan for making me think it was a good idea to have a large cast of characters and a thirteen book cycle. I drew a lot of early world-building inspiration from him when I was younger, though. Hm.
I guess I'll think about this some more. I suppose everyone else has done this multiple times, but feel free to do it again? I do like learning about what people find inspiring.