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On Literary Influence: A Guide

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United Gordonopia
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On Literary Influence: A Guide

Postby United Gordonopia » Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:35 pm

Since the beginning of art itself, artists have sought inspiration and guidance from those who came before. The Greek playwrights rooted their works in their culture's timeless oral tradition. Chinese classics, such as Journey to the West, compiled elements from countless stories dating back thousands of years. Twentieth century existentialists such as Sartre and Camus found inspiration in nineteenth century philosophers and artist like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky who themselves derived so many of their ideas from their predecessors. Regardless of how 'modern' and 'revolutionary', all art has influences.

Like any forum for creativity, NationStates' International Incidents requires writers to develop their own style. However, jumping blindly into the literary art of the roleplay post will result in nothing but chaos. In order for a roleplayer's work to succeed, that roleplayer must seek influences from those who came before; both on this website and in the artistic canon of mankind as a whole. In order to aid all roleplayers with this often daunting task, I proudly present:


On Literary Influence
A Guide


I shall begin by saying that in my experience on NationStates, there are two primary sources of literary influence: roleplayers already on the site and writers from the world's literary canon. As one can find numerous guides providing excellent examples of Nationstates roleplaying, I will address the latter source first.

World Literary Canon

Dating back thousands of years before the common era, there are more pieces of written material than one can possibly comprehend. Thankfully, every culture has established its own canon of great works, which often serves as a useful guide for aspiring storytellers. The task for an individual is to find the works and artists most relevant and inspiring to their own goals. Using these works as a foundation, it is possible to build a style capable of standing alone.

I myself have found inspiration in numerous writers from the Western tradition. Perhaps the most notable influence on my style of writing has been from the alternate history novelist Harry Turtledove. From his Timeline-191 series (also known as Southern Victory) comes the core of my style of writing. This style, evident in many of NationStates' great writers, consists of using multiple characters in short vignettes to tell a single unified story. The second novel in the series, The Great War: American Front, demonstrates this perfectly. Chapter I is separated in to four distinct sections, told from the point of view of George Enos, Jake Featherston, Cinccinatus, Flora Hamburger and Reginald Bartlett. These characters are as diverse as they are fascinating: one is a Boston fisherman and father who is eventually forced to join the navy, one is an ambitious non-commissioned artilleryman stuck in a highly aristocratic unit, one is a black laborer in Kentucky who is simply seeking a better life for his family, one is a female Socialist activist in New York who eventually rises to the highest levels of political power and the last is a Richmond pharmacists assistant who eagerly joins up as soon as war is declared. Throughout the novel, there are around twenty of these 'viewpoint' characters who appear several times, and whose stories often intersect. Through their eyes, the reader is able to grasp the big picture of the novel, all while anchoring the story on a human level.

The applications of this style of writing are numerous. Though rough, I think that my unfinished roleplay, Fall of a Republic, demonstrates this style perfectly. Particularly in some of the later, more developed posts, one can see that reoccurring characters from both my own nation and Independent Hitmen tell the story through their individual experiences. Although more compact than Turtledove's work, the posts illustrate how a writer's influence can be felt.

This style is, of course, only one of many and is certainly not the only way to write on NationStates. However, finding a small group of authors, or even one, that you can derive the very basis of your style from gives your posts a feel of unity and cohesion that they would otherwise lack. In my case, that author is Turtledove. For others, there is a world of literature to choose from.

Of course, influences can be much more specific than a writer's entire style. Often, an allusion to the style of another artist can be contained to a single post. For example, the opening to my most recent roleplay contains subtle influences from Ernest Hemingway. In the post, the staccato style of describing a scene, almost like a train of thought, is used several times. For example, the first paragraph exemplifies this staccato with its short, terse sentences, especially near the end. Although I do not regularly write in this style, I felt that it would be appropriate and intriguing to bring in the Hemingway style for this single scene.

Another personal example of this would be in one of my short stories, Define a Nation. Rather than take influence from a writer or book, I chose to pay homage to one of my favorite television programs: 24. The frantic nature and multiple twists, as well as several of the characters, are heavily influenced from the show. This story also demonstrates that influences need not be contained solely to literature, but rather can derive from any form of expression.

NationStates Literary Canon

Just as important, if not more, than outside influences are those residing on NationStates. Roleplaying has existed since the site added a forum, and although most threads before 2009 are now lost, there are still hundreds of thousands of posts to inspire any writer, new or old. One of the simplest things that can be done to develop a style is to find writers whose style you admire, and taking inspiration from them. Simply reading through threads from well known writers and regions can uncover a wealth of material.

For example, Layarteb is one writer whose writing I respect very much. In particular, his short story, Laurent's Lament has had a major influence on my own writing. The story begins with intriguing character building, rather than jumping directly into the action. Paul Laurent, one of the two main characters, is introduced while angrily correcting a telemarketer on the pronunciation of his last name. From there, the narrative shifts to the central focus: a phonograph from Paul's great-great-grandfather. The story shifts to this ancestor's chilling recounting of a police investigation he is currently working on, before ending with a brilliant twist.

The story provides numerous opportunities for sparks of creativity. It demonstrates how a relatively slow-paced, character heavy story can succeed on NationStates. It shows that a twist ending doesn't have to be a bomb going off suddenly, or an assassination; it can be a single sentence that changes the readers perspective of the story. It shows how character development that is seemingly irrelevant to the story itself can make the piece that much more engaging.

On the other hand, the works of writers like Questers provide insight on a different level. In The Tiger and the Eagle, Questers provides an amazing example of writing that simply seems real. From the first post, everything is perfectly tuned to draw the reader in. Elements such as the terse dialogue hold nothing back and only serve to enhance the dire reality of war. Not only does this thread demonstrate a fascinating, engaging roleplay, it also demonstrates techniques that any writer could apply to enhance their own work.

In Conclusion

As a final note I should add that influences, and even direct homages, should never feel forced. When I read, I don't simply look for techniques to improve my own writing. Rather, I read because I love to and when I find writers whose work captures me, I try to figure out how I can emulate a small part of their style to better my own writing. As you explore the endless collection of written word from NationStates and beyond, do so with an open mind. Don't try to emulate a writer simply because others say they are good, do so because their work truly speaks to you. When influence comes in this way, you will find your writing grow in ways you never thought possible.
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