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Inspired by Craig

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Yesterday I was browsing Reddit when I came across a blog called “Get Me Writing“.  The site is run by Matt Roberts (aside from finding his twitter account I can’t find much information on him). On his site there is an article titled “Influence Vs. Inspiration” by a poster named Craig. In it he states,

…I’m making positive and negative distinctions here. Influence being negative, Inspiration being positive. But over the past month or so, this is how I have come to regard the two. Influence can be insidious…  – Craig

He proceeds to make points that put these two at odds with one another– painting Influence as a bad guy.

I just can’t get behind that. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Influence and Inspiration are not two sides of a coin. Rather, I see them as a Conductor (Influence) and the sheet music (Inspiration). It is a strange analogy, but follow me for a moment.  Influence is something that molds you as an artist over time. It shifts and moves you in a particular direction. Conducting (see what I did there) you to an end. It sees the overall picture, even if you don’t.

Inspiration, your sheet music, is that instant burst of creativity. It compels and drives you note by note; moment by moment.  And, it is Influence that determines how you interpret that Inspiration. Without one the other is flat– practically useless.

However, that does not mean Influence and Inspiration can’t be bad. Having too much influence from a single source is when things can start to go wrong. If you only ever work with one conductor, or ever learn to play one sheet of music you will stagnate as an artist. To leave the analogy behind. With only one influence, or only one source of inspiration, you cannot move forward as a writer.

At this point I think we can all find the humor (irony?) of this post itself. I was inspired by Craig to write an article on the same subject. But, it is through my influences that have led me to a different opinion than him.

In conclusion, take in as much as you can. I have seen the advice of “read every day”; but I want to encourage you to take it a step further. Read, write, watch a movie, watch some TV, play a video game, draw, paint, do as many different kinds of art as you can. You’ll find yourself being influenced and inspired over and over again.

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5 Comments

  1. Craig says:

    Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for being inspired by my post! The analogy you use of conductor and music is very interesting, and perhaps a little better than the way I used it the idea of Influence and Inspiration. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, I guess, either can be good or bad, I was using the two terms to fit the specifics of what I’ve been going through with my writing of late. Too much influence and not enough inspiration.

    I guess it is best if you can find that happy medium, that harmony, like you mention, the perfect synergy between influence and inspiration that really pushes your own writing forward.

    • Jeff Baker says:

      Hey Craig,

      First, thanks for taking the time to comment. I do think you make a good point in finding that happy medium. As I read through Orson Scott Cards’ “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” I’ve noticed that he asks himself a lot of questions. Meaning, he constantly takes a germ of an idea and starts rearranging the rules around it. So to use Mass Effect as an influence, he may ask himself, what if the Protheans were not extinct? But instead a mastermind race bent on using the Reavers to destroy the world? Then you switch up the names a bit and rework the backstory. Now you are on your way to a new story. I guess the best way to think about it, is being able to take those ideas and switching them up.

  2. Craig says:

    Which I think is a very dangerous road in writing. Because it almost becomes fractal storytelling, right? To use rpgs as an example (especially the bioware ones), I find them somewhat misleading at times. Because they always give you the illusion of choice, as opposed to the choice itself. Granted, in terms of rpgs, you are limited by how much you can actually program into a game, and make it fit on a disk. While the small stuff is much easier to ‘make fractal’ (in Dragon Age: Do I get with Morrigan, or Leliana? How does that effect the relationships and dialogue options with them? And how can I get Sten to stop being such a miserable git?), the ‘big choices’ are always either one or the other. I think this is summed up quite well in the ‘interactive comic book’ that came with the ps3 version of mass effect 2. It allows you to make the big choices in the game, which directly carry over to the sequel, and doesn’t really effect the smaller stuff.

    In terms of writing, or rather editing, its much more dangerous. One small change you make in chapter one (switching something up, so to speak) can result in massive changes by the end. Which means a whole load of redrafting, generating new material, adding possibly months to the completion time to a project. I personally know this danger first hand. I dont know if it is more or less advantageous to have the back story set down in stone prior to beginning. This though, does have its own disadvantage, because it means there can be no real flexibility. Don’t you think?

    • Jeff Baker says:

      My experience as a Dungeon/Game Master for a variety of Pen and Paper roleplaying games has taught me a valuable lesson in “rolling with the punches”. I do a fair amount of thought on the major NPC’s motivation and goals. I know how and what they are doing to be able to obtain whatever it is they want. I even have a general plan on what they’re doing to achieve their goal. Well, what happens if the players doing something that messes that up? Is the whole thing ruined? Of course not. I still know what that NPC wants. I still know what he will do to get it. He just has to revise his plans a bit.

      What does that mean for writing a novel? Do as much back-story as you need to know what your main character’s motivations are. Even have some major plot points down. This doesn’t mean you don’t have any flexibility. You actually have the opposite now. You are informed so well that you can make the changes that are needed to service the story. Never be married to any one particular idea. Once you find yourself saying, “I can’t change that! Everything revolves around that!”, then you’re headed down a dangerous path. When you are in a situation that the rest of the story is begging for something to change, then change it.

      I’m reminded of an anecdote from Brad Bird–arguably the best story teller in Hollywood. When he first wrote The Incredibles he had a pilot that was going to fly the family to the island. He was written in just to die in the explosion–to show that the bad guys, “meant business”. As time went on, he realized that it took up too much time to introduce a brand new character within the third act. And he realized, no one would care if this guy died because we didn’t know him. He cut out the character, made the mom the pilot, and ended up with a tense and memorable scene. Originally Brad fought to keep the pilot in, but when it was said and done had a stronger story without him.

      As you write you’ll start making changes all over the place. Will it cause the novel to be pushed back? Probably. But as a writer you need to allow yourself that freedom. Change as much is as needed to make a stronger story.

      Everything you do is in service to the story.

      That is my opinion at least 🙂

  3. […] a conversation with Craig about my post on Inspiration I got on the topic of how much you should be willing to change while writing your novel. I realized […]

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