Being an author and reading other books

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Tabris, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. Tabris

    Tabris 11.11.11

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    I have heard two different approaches authors have to reading other author's books. One is to recommend authors to read anything they can come across, to broaden their horizon and learn more about the art of writing in general. The other is to read nothing at all, to make sure you are not subconsciously influenced and thus "stealing" other people's ideas.

    What do you think is the smart thing to do as an author? And when it comes to being a fantasy author in particular, how original can you be creating your own world? Is it especially important for a fantasy author to not read other fantasy novels to not "steal" other ideas?
     
  2. Overread

    Overread Wolfing it up! Staff Member

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    The vast majority of modern fantasy (at least "popular modern") is already copied. Many copy right out of Tolkien who intentionally copied right out of the old Norse Legends. The large number of fantasy creatures we have are direct or derivative creatures from popular folk tales, mythology and law.

    Fantasy is already copied to a greater or lesser extent.

    Besides with billions of people on the earth chances are someone is already thinking some of the same thoughts you are and already putting them to pen. Heck I'm sure many of us have had "original" ideas only to come across them already in use within either direct fantasy or outside of fantasy.


    So I think copying is a false worry - certainly make sure you don't copy a story word for word or build a story with such a strong similarity of world set that you're clearly aping after another (A slight exception here is with regard to mythology where you can "get away" with this to some degree).

    Also I'd be very, very surprised if any author sits down to a love of writing without a love of reading. The two go hand in hand in my view, so telling an author not to read is silly; they already have been reading for years (if not decades) before they put pen to paper. I'm sure some do stop or limit reading when they are seriously writing, just to remove a distraction or remove the chance of accidentally aping after another's work through their own.



    As for how original you have to be - depends on what you want to write about. Sometimes you get someone out to build a world - like Tolkien - and you've got to also put a story into that world at the same time - whilst not snowing your readers under a sea of description and world building.
    Then you've got the other extreme where you're not really out to build a world - you use a romantic medieval England fantasy setting with the stark castles and wolves in the woods etc... and through that you tell a story. The safety here is many of the concepts you draw upon are "commonly" known and you don't always have to dump page after chapter of details onto your readers - whilst at the same time of course, keeping your own slant on things. Changing little or big things to give it your own flavour
     
  3. Running Wolf

    Running Wolf Join the Madness

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    What I notice is that when I read books and write on a story 'at the same time', I unintentionally copy the writing style. And thus as my longer stories develop, my writing stlye goes from Tolkien to Rowling to Martin to Salvatore etc...
    I get better in keeping my own style, but it's still a danger I need to be aware of ^^
     
  4. WildPony

    WildPony New Member

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    I find that the more I read, the more I see what has been used and how I can make my own story original without blatantly copying another's ideas. Reading also stimulates me, I'm not sure if I'd have the will to carry on writing if I didn't read completed works by other authors. In the case of fantasy, I think the most pressing problem is creating a unique kind of magic, how does it work, how can it be used, who can use it etc. Well, that's just my view on it. But, Overread is right, to tell an author not to read other works whilst writing their own story is silly.
     
  5. Greybeard

    Greybeard Geezer

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    Only once has someone told me I shouldn't read whle writing, and he was only technically literate. And he thought the only reason a writer would ever read was to "steal ideas."

    I believe we learn to tell stories by absorbing them; hearing or watching or especially reading them. Reading is part of writing.
     
  6. inkworknow

    inkworknow Writer, dreamer

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    I've always struggled with that too. I read pretty eclectically, so I get ideas from all over the place. But with fantasy...I've always been afraid I would accidentally morph someone else's ideas into my own little world and end up "copying" them...or having a story that easily traces back to the author's bookshelf (*cough* Eragon...).

    I guess it just depends on how your own mind works. Do you get inspired by other fantasy authors or do you find yourself just reworking/manipulating their worlds/characters/ideas in your head? How do you all deal with that?
     
  7. Herickson

    Herickson New Member

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    I think it was Picasso that said: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." I don't completely agree with this statement, but the idea makes a bit of sense.

    As artists, I think that writing requires that we learn, especially if we are writing in an established medium. However, where I begin to disagree with this statement is when it comes to straight plagiarism. This is absolutely unacceptable.

    But, is it truly stealing to borrow a bit from other authors? I personally like R.A. Salvator and when I write action scenes, I don't try to copy him, but I do admire him and so I strive to be as good as he is. This requires that I learn from what works and I believe that translates to other mediums.

    @greybeard

    I have a friend who does not read any other books, while he is writing. Personally, I disagree slightly with this idea. When I read, watch, or play something with a good story, this in turn sparks ideas inside my head. This doesn't mean I am copying, far from it. Actually, most of the time these are far and away seperate from the original story's ideas.
     
  8. gumboot

    gumboot lorcutus.tolere

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    I think in part it depends on your aims. If you're writing to sell books, it makes sense to actually read a lot; you're selling to a market and if you don't know what that market is currently buying you won't know what to produce for them. I think the concern of copying another writer's works is only really true of inexperienced writers, and if you find yourself subconsciously copying the author you're reading, you should probably work at writing for a while longer before trying to release anything.

    I started writing because I got into fantasy books, and at first my writing always sounded like the authors I was reading. It probably took a good ten years before I had found my own "voice", and now reading other authors isn't an issue. I find I tend to prefer reading authors who write in a similar style to me, perhaps because I've gone down a very "realism" -based approach, and most medieval fantasy isn't very realistic at all. I find that stuff quite hard to read now, because I'll spot all the things that are unrealistic, which I never noticed before.
     
  9. vstclair

    vstclair New Member

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    I think the best thing you can do as an author, to improve in writing at least, is to read. I read 4-5 books a week, in my preferred genres or out of it (I'm a fantasy/sci-fi writer). As I plan out my own story ideas, I try to make a conscious effort to make sure nothing is plagiarized out of something I've recently read. But one of the most inspiring things for me, is reading other stories that I like. For instance, I read a book about angels and it got me thinking that we never hear stories from the demon point of view. So I went with that and wrote Fall of Kings (Book 1 in Chronicles of Icthema trilogy), and it's been doing great on amazon. I think as long as you're not deliberately stealing someone else's names/plots/worlds, you should read as much as you can stand to :D
     
  10. Ender-Zero

    Ender-Zero Ruff Mercenary

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    Sorry I don't remember who said it, or the exact quote but it was basically this, "Everything has been done, there are no more original works. Ths closest you can get to creating something original is cleverly plagiarizing someone else's work."