Monday, October 17, 2011

How I Pulled an "Anne"

Or: Maud's Influence

Like many writers (at least, I believe), I am influenced here and there by the books I read. Not in a blatant "I'm stealing this plot" sort of way, and not even in the more subtle, "I'm totally using that metaphor" kind of way, either.

If I come across a passage where an emotion comes across powerfully, I'll step back, put on my writer hat, and try to figure out how the author made the scene so effective. I watch for structure: what works well, what doesn't. Most importantly, why.

And so on.

But there was one case where a book impacted mine in a more direct way.

I won't do spoilers, so here's my attempt at explaining while being vague:

There was a case where I wrote Character A needing redemption in the eyes Character B, so A and C could be together. As I pondered the plot issue, I remembered a device in Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (who preferred to be called Maud, not Lucy).

I realized with an aha that I'd found my solution. Sort of.

Those who have read all my books will likely recognize this now that I'm about to point it out. (And now you'll know where that plot event came from.)

When Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk on what she thinks is raspberry cordial, Mrs. Barry refuses to let the two be friends anymore. The two girls are not allowed to even talk to one another.

It's not until Mr. and Mrs. Barry are gone one night, and Diana's little sister Minnie Mae gets very ill, that things change: Anne comes to the rescue to save Minnie Mae, who would have died by the time a doctor arrived had Anne not intervened.

That night changes everything: now Mrs. Barry is overflowing in gratitude toward Anne for saving her baby. And she knows without any doubt that Anne can't be a horrid, evil girl after all. Diana and Anne get to be friends again! All is well.

In my book, I pulled an "Anne." I gave Character A, who needed redeeming, a chance to save someone else to prove their character to Character B, who was keeping them from the Character C.

(Is that vague enough to avoid a spoiler? Yet clear enough for those who know what I'm talking about? Hope so.)

That was the one time I deliberately used a specific technique I learned from LMM or any other writer. Yet my version looks very different than hers. I adapted a device.

However, in my very first book, I accidentally mimicked a line of hers from one of my all-time favorite books. I didn't realize I'd done so until two years after Lost Without You first hit shelves, while rereading The Blue Castle for probably the 10th time. I came to a similar line near the end of the book and gasped.

At first I was horrified. Had I accidentally plagiarized? But then I realized that no, I hadn't. First of all, plagiarism is deliberate. This was completely unintentional. Plus, the line wasn't copied; it just contained a distinctive adverb. I'd simply read and loved so much of LMM's work that her influence was bound to creep into my writing on some level.

Most of the time, when I'm influenced by another writer, it's in unseen ways: I notice how they start or end chapters, how they reveal character, show emotion, even describe gestures. (Robert Jordan was particularly good at the latter.)

So: I'm assuming others are influenced in similar ways. For the writers out there: whose writing influences you and how?

Or am I the only one weird one?

(Oh, and if you know what book and situation I'm talking about, please don't spoil it in the comments for anyone else! Thanks!)


Susan Anderson said...

Emily Dickinson most of all, with Robert Frost a close second.


Anonymous said...

Spoiler: It was Chocolate Never Faileth. Wasn't it?

Luisa Perkins said...

When I was working on Dispirited, I needed to convey dread, so I re-read Stephen King's Misery to dissect how he did it. It worked like a charm--I think so, anyway.


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