ladyoftheriversIt’s important that we know and understand our influences as writers and recognize when those influences appear in our own writing, both well and poorly. I just finished The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory, which is a novel that fictionalizes most of the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, wife of Henry Woodville, and mother of Queen Elizabeth. The novel focuses heavily on the relationship between Jacquetta and Margaret Anjou, the wife of King Henry the VI of England. By and large it was a wonderful novel. Not being a Medieval historian I can’t actually tell you how accurate the novel is, but a little light research has shown that at least most of the major characters and events actually existed and happened. In fact, the only point of contention that I have with the novel is one of obvious influence. There are points in the novel that are obviously influenced by concepts of modern feminism, which by and large are well-written and effective. The character of Jacquetta is both very strong and a good wife, mother, and friend to those around her. However, the author writes several scenes from Jacquetta’s perspective in which the character seems jealous of Margaret Anjou’s place as ‘a woman in her power’, normally after Margaret has done something truly horrible, like have a bunch of innocent people executed.

Henry was not exactly a good or wise king.
Henry was not exactly a good or wise king.

This obviously has my mind on our influences. The author of this work was fairly obviously influenced by feminist thought and ideals, and that influence generally comes through in her work in a positive fashion. Jacquetta is an excellent example of someone who is both a strong woman and a good person. This lends credence to her use as a positive example of ‘a woman in her power’, as Jacquetta is certainly powerful in several ways. However, the use of Margaret Anjou as a second positive example of ‘a woman in her power’ is problematic, especially in the scenes where the author makes these allusions. Where Jacquetta wields her power well and wisely, Margaret (who is doubtlessly a woman of power) uses her power for selfish ends that do not bring about good results for anyone but herself, and ultimately not for herself. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the author intends to contrast Jacquetta and Margaret as two powerful women, one good and the other wicked, but the scenes I am speaking of do not support such a contrast. Instead, they throw it into doubt.

And Margaret Anjou wasn't exactly a good person.
And Margaret Anjou wasn’t exactly a good person.

Whenever we write multiple influences show themselves. Often we are aware of at least some of them. My own writing is obviously influenced by my Christian beliefs, my research into the occult, my philosophical and theological studies, my martial arts practice, and my own fantasy and science fiction reading. However, there are usually influences that are less obvious to us as authors. It is important to make the attempt to identify some of these influences, though it is unlikely that you will ever identify all of them, and seek to understand their proper place in your writing. For instance, my own somewhat troubled childhood has certainly influenced my writing, as has my generally pessimistic/realistic view of the world, my romantic frustrations, and my generally low view of man’s moral nature. I’m sure that there are probably some influences that don’t really have any positive place in writing. I may be wrong about this, and I’m not going to try to identify any, but it is my guess that there must be at least a few influences that should simply be excised. However, by and large every influence contributes something to our writing, and it is up to us to determine how much contribution we allow, and what specific contributions we allow. From the example above, I think that feminism could perhaps have had a more positive influence in Gregory’s novel if it had a little less overall influence in her novel.

So, this is my quesiton to you on this fine July day: what are the major influences in your writing? Have you taken account of them? Have you examined how they contribute to your work? Have you sought to tease out the good and the bad and deal with them individually? All of these are things that are worth doing.

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5 thoughts on “What are Your Influences?

  1. I too am a Christian, so I know that influences my writing. As do certain events in my past, and all other aspects of the way I was raised. I’ve generally found they contribute to my work by making my imagination more vivid than it otherwise might have been, along with making me take a closer look at the motivations of the hearts of my characters.

  2. I allow my thoughts and understandings to influence my writing. As they evolve, so does my style. I enjoy exploring concepts through writing, so I seek stories that push my mental/spiritual boundaries. My influences are almost entirely music-based and heavily seeped in society. From fellow writers, I prefer to adopt techniques that I admire – some work out, others don’t and I learn. I am fascinated by conveying emotion through writing and “forcing” thought processes, as well. This influences decisions I make in editing/rewriting.

  3. Faccinating. We often don’t realize the influence of early education and historic influences. For example,an objective (if that’s possible) history of Henery suggests he really wasn’t all that bad a king. Shakespere did him no favors, and pretty much defined our understanding of him. What we don’t know and assume is amazing.

    1. You might be right, I haven’t really done much research on the subject. What little I have done seems to conclude that he was weak and had mental problems characterized by relatively frequent mental breakdowns and commonly child-like behavior. This is also argued to be the reason why Margaret of Anjou essentially ran the country during his reign. However, my sources have been very limited, so it’s entirely possible that they’re just repeating what a few primary sources have drawn from Shakespeare.

  4. I have conscious influences of author’s who I’d like to emulate– Leo Tolstoy, Alexei Tolstoy, Salman Rushdie, Joe Abercrombie, influences of the genre I dwell in most (fantasy), definitive influence from my long involvement in D&D and other table top RPGs, but I suppose there are influences from my life that are less conscious– my struggles with PTSD after my deployment to Kuwait/Iraq, my two failed marriages, my Christian upbringing and subsequent disillusion, theater performance training and philosophy classes from college. It’s an interesting thing to think about which of those are coming across in our writing.

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