People always ask writers where they get their story ideas from. I always say, “I only write what the voices tell me to….”
That’s pretty much true. Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard once stated that when he wrote Conan stories the massive barbarian was behind him while he typed, holding an axe to his neck, forcing him to dictate his life story. The stories were there, whole and developed, ready to be plucked off the tree once they were ripe. I feel the same way, that stories are already living on their own, floating in the ether, ready for writers to discover them and flesh them out for readers to enjoy. Or lambast. They don’t always come out right.
If I had to pick the two most influential writers for me as a novelist I would say Robert E. Howard and Edgar Allan Poe. Each created a new genre never before seen. Poe is credited with created the detective story and fans of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie have him to thank for all the hours of enjoyment reading those characters inspired by Poe’s Dupin. Howard created the sub-genre of fantasy called Sword and Sorcery. And Poe was the progenitor of so many horror writers there are too numerous to mention here. Poe was the King of Goth.
Both were brave men. In this current age where branding yourself as a writer of a particular genre is paramount to sell books, to go against the grain and write outside what your readers or publisher expect is dangerous. You take the chance on alienating your audience with “something different.” Well, boo-hoo. I respect writers who take risks and not only cross genres but write outside their genres when the Muse moves them towards something different. What’s the big deal? I’m influenced by a lot of things. Books, movies, television shows, video games, people I meet, friends I’ve known from the past.
A good story is a good story. I write about people. The particular genre is simply the setting, with familiar attributes within that setting that, when written well with characters and their story first and foremost, only enhance the story we are attempting to tell. Simple. Genres are a way to categorize these stories so the marketing people know where to put them on the shelves. And to make it easier for the reader to find but I feel like it’s too indoctrinating. Break out, people! Yes. Break out and read something you never thought you would read before.
And all you writers, break out and read outside your genre for the betterment of your own writing. It will give it depth and trim away clichés associated with the genre you find yourself writing in. Your influences do and should come from a variety of sources. It will only make your writing better.