by Monifa Anderson, Age 15, United Kingdom
Artwork by Katie King
It was a cold November evening, and I was in my bedroom, many-layered and thickly-socked. I decided to read some Charles Bukowski poems. Bukowski wrote about life’s hardships and challenges. He frequently tossed in amazingly accurate observations of the human condition.
Anyway, it was NaNoWriMo, which meant I had deadlines, so straight after reading I worked on my novel and found myself compelled to provide deep, meaningful, philosophical insight into each and every one of my characters.
The reason for this hit me like an epiphany. What was this sudden twist in writing style all about? Influence Influenza, that’s what.
An ailment whereby whatever a writer is reading at the moment temporarily seeps into the style of their work.
Don’t tell me I’m the only one who has experienced this. Think over your time as a writer. I’m certain you will discover that at some point, you have had the Flu.
As writers, we are constantly searching for sources of inspiration, even when we don’t know we’re doing it. We soak it all up like sponges and use it as food for our imaginations. And–warning, hard truth up ahead–although we’d like to think we’re not young and naïve, deep down we know we don’t have it all figured out. Stories help explain some of the things we can’t completely figure out ourselves. And so, naturally, we allow ourselves to be influenced. We succumb to the Flu.
The (Surprisingly Beneficial) Side Effects
- Influence Influenza can actually help us find our voices as writers. We all have our own quirks in our writing styles, sure, but few us are lucky enough to have a style that is all our own and we are totally confident in.
- I, for one, am all for experimentation. It keeps the journey interesting; it stops me from taking the safe and boring road.
The Not-So-Good Side Effects (in a descending list of severity)
- Influence Influenza results in inconsistency. Some of your scenes could end up being ten times more descriptive than others, which is great, if that works in your favour. If not, it can lead to confusion, frustration, and in extreme cases of the Flu, tearing your hair out.
- When writing in first person, you don’t particularly want the voice of your viewpoint character changing halfway through the novel.
- You could decide to throw in a gigantic plot twist that your newly influenced self thinks is a good idea, but then regret it later on when the entire mood of the book shifts.
Treatment: Make the Flu work for you
- Don’t let Influence Influenza beat you. Make it work in your favour. If you read a funny book, and are determined to fit that hilarity in somewhere in your own story, choose a scene where comedy is appropriate.
- Keep perspective. Don’t go into painstaking detail on that one guy in the coffee shop who only shows up in one scene for five seconds to take your character’s order.
- Master the hardest lesson: discipline. Always keep the big picture in mind, the overall style of what you want to create. Remember what your characters’ personalities are and what you want to show in each scene/chapter.
Good luck with tackling the Flu, my friends. It may not be contagious, but it is highly catchable.
Monifa Anderson is a 15 year old writer from London. She is currently trying to master the Influence Influenza.
2 comments on “How to Tackle the Influence Influenza”
The “influence influenza”, as you have so felicitously termed it, is definitely a thing that happens. Most certainly. I don’t think anyone who’s ever written or read in their lives could deny that. I am, however, a bit thrown off by your thesis that absorbing the styles of other writers is something that has to be avoided, or at the very least limited.
You say that “few us are lucky enough to have a style that is all our own and we are totally confident in.” I totally agree that, as young writers, style is not something many of us have in abundance – in fact, lack of style is probably the main thing that separates us from, you know, actual writers. The development of style, though, has literally nothing to do with luck. Style is not determined by one’s DNA like the color of your hair or your sexuality. Style is not achieved easily or in some sort of “aha” moment, and it’s certainly not a fixed point in your development as a writer. Even authors with an easily distinguishable style, like Samuel Beckett or Irvine Welsh, don’t maintain the exact same style throughout their oeuvre. Compare Beckett’s early works, such as “Dream of Fair to Middling Women”, to his more developed works like “Waiting for Godot”. One can certainly see in the former some elements of style which remained throughout Beckett’s writing career, but can also see how Beckett’s writing changed as he moved past the dense Joycean characteristics of his earlier writing and incorporated different literary lenses into his work – lenses, or devices if you will, that clearly sprung from Beckett’s increasing involvement with the absurdist movement that literature and philosophy were taking at the time of his writing. His style changed as the artistic temperament of his environment changed. And, reading “Waiting for Godot”, very few would argue that the assimilation of minimalist absurdism and the attendant abandonment of Joycean trappings was a bad thing for Beckett’s style.
Style, therefore, is achieved by the very “influence influenza” you attempt to limit: you develop style by exposing yourself to vast amounts of text, experimenting frequently with incorporating aspects of style into your own work, and above all thinking critically about the elements of style you experience, enjoy and use. Style, for me, is picking and choosing what works and what doesn’t in whatever it is that you’re reading, and using it to embellish the style you already have. After all, we all speak in different ways, though no one taught us how. The unconscious development of style, our voice that already exists as a result of our childhood and that we use to communicate on a daily, informal basis, is the foundation of style. The conscious development of style – reading, analyzing, and experimenting – is what takes writing from passable, mere communication to great art.
The really cool thing about all this is that conscious development never stops. We will forever have entire worlds of style to explore as writers. That is so goddamn awesome to me, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing so much.
Anyway, thanks for writing this article! I’m not trying to be an asshole, just sharing my opinion. Good luck with your journey with the development of style.
This is so true. I think as you grow as a storyteller, you’ll find that your writing gains a voice all its own. At least I hope! I’m not there yet. I do try to take little nuggets of inspiration from everything I read and smash them together to form something new and unrecognisable.
To me, this article embodies what the jaBlog is all about. Really glad I read it. The only part I didn’t get was that last sentence. Doesn’t contagious mean the same thing as catchable? In this case, you’re getting the Influence Influenza from other authors, so you could definitely say it’s contagious!