On the Shoulders of Giants

While most people speak of Suzanne Collins, writer of “The Hunger Games”, being influenced by “Battle Royale” (for that debate you can see here), I wonder whether she was a fan of Shirley Jackson.

I first read “The Lottery” (an audio version here) when I was twelve and it is one of the stories that has sat at the back of my head as a masterclass in tension and plotting. If Ms. Collins was influenced by “The Lottery”, she certainly wouldn’t be the only writer. Both Neil Gaiman and Stephen King cite Shirley Jackson as an influence, although “The Haunting of Hill House” may have more obvious plot influences.

This is not a bad thing.

So often when the discussion of influences in writing appears there is a fundamental undertone of “See! They haven’t done any real work!”.

While we have these conversations in music and art, there seems to be a strange misunderstanding when it comes to books.

Let me tell you a secret.

No story comes entirely out of thin air.

I would argue that the best writing is consciously aware of the technique and tales that came before it.

Our strongest stories are those that acknowledge the giants before them and build upon their shoulders.

Writing is a craft as much as an art and a good craftsperson practices their technique and understands the techniques of other works in their field.

It is not a point of pride to be unaware of the tropes and tales within our rich history of literature. By knowing those tropes we can move beyond their bases and create something that is new, that clearly acknowledges the richness behind us.  I also think that it is important that we look beyond classic European works to fully understand and recognize our rich literary lineage.

I’ll tell you another secret.

Stories disappear.

Without iterations and re-tellings and connected inspiration, most tales vanish into the empty void of lost memory.

I find it telling that Ms. Collins’ writing is compared to “Battle Royale” rather than the work I think that she was far more likely to have encountered.

Entertainment is very much in the moment. While “The Lottery” is still well-known more than sixty years after its publication, it is not as well-known as the stories it has influenced.

How many other stories from 1949 can you name?

The fear of the tales we tell is not that someone will write a story with a similar idea or setting.

The fear is that after we have stood in the square, stoned as a tribute, that no one will remember us at all.

IMG_0600In the end, our ideas are as ephemeral as seeds on the wind if they do not take root and spread

I am openly influenced by writers as diverse as Basho, Lewis Carroll, and Agatha Christie. I hope to do honour to their proud literary tradition.

If you would like to judge my literary influences for yourself, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.