The Root of the Story


I’ve spent the past week at the Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland, Oregon.  While there are many plays performed at the Shakespeare Festival that were *not* written by the Bard, my theater-going friends vastly prefer to see see Old Will’s creations. 

That’s fine with me, even though I’ve seen most of the plays multiple times before.  Seeing a new production gives me a chance to study the choices made by the director and the actors.  I learn more about the language, more about the story.

And most of those stories have their roots in far older tales.  Shakespeare plundered lots of sources for his plays — folktales, “histories” with dubious real-world accuracy, travel diaries of explorers, etc.  In each case, he took those stories, and he made them his own, creating vibrant characters who speak with carefully-chosen words to convey a distinct moral lesson (or, in any case, an exploration of morality.)

All those program notes got me thinking about background sources for modern writing.  My fantasy stories often start with myths from other cultures — my twelve gods in the DARKBEAST series had their birth in the Greek pantheon (changed notably by the social strictures of the society I created for Keara and her darkbeast companion).

I’ve always been drawn to theater and Commedia del’ Arte, and passion plays, so those roots are displayed in my fiction as well.  Keara has her Travelers; Rani Trader (in my Glasswrights Series) has her Players.  (And yes, I weave in a few Shakespearean references along the way…)

Of course, Tolkien looms over my fantasy novels (especially a lot of my early, unpublished work), and Katherine Kurtz flavored every ritual I’ve ever written.  I can tease out dozens of other authors — their styles, their plots, little details that stuck in my mind for one reason or another.

How about you?  What are the roots of your stories?  If someone were writing a Playbill about your work, centuries after you’re gone, who will they cite as your literary inspirations?


9 comments to The Root of the Story

  • sagablessed

    Deamons Dreams combines the myths of Avalon and Greek. Current WIP is based on Anglo Saxon culture with some Arthurian stuff, though the religious attitudes are more Wiccan.
    Next WIP I am not sure. The one after that is a retelling of the tale of Zeus and Ganymedes.

  • The Rockford Files. Seriously. We pitched Thieftaker as “Harry Dresden meets Samuel Adams,” and that works. The Butcher reference puts the series squarely in the urban fantasy tradition, while Sam Adams conveys the historical. But really, I see Ethan as Jim Rockford — a down-on-his-luck, past-his-prime PI who gets beaten up. A lot. I have a second UF, a contemporary, and that one has shades of Jim Rockford, too, including a close but troubled relationship with his father. Greek mythology is cool. So is King Arthur and Celtic tradition. But if not for the Rockford Files I’m not sure what I’d be writing . . .

  • My first book “The Dark Genesis of Daniel James” has biblical roots but I also combined a lot of Nazi-supernatural conspiracies and elements from “Vril, the Power of the Coming Race” into it.

  • My main WIP, Altar of Heaven, was created with Joan of Arc in mind. Now if I could just cross that with the Rockford Files, it would be a best seller!

  • My biggest writing inspirations long ago were probably Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks, Michael Moorcock, and Weis & Hickman. I also love the old Anglo-Saxon epics from Henry Treece, which I find interesting that I’ve never written anything dealing with that era. Beyond that, there was Star Wars, Space 1999, Star Trek: TOS, the original Battlestar Galactica, anime like Robotech, Gundam 0080 (I love battle mechs), & Starblazers.

    My earliest introduction that I paid the most attention to, though, was probably the origins of The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man. I had a little boxed set when I was really young and I remember staying up with the nightlight on and reading them when I was supposed to be asleep.

    I have inspirations for wanting to write and the reasons why I write, but not necessarily that I consciously pull things from other sources. At least, for the most part. Rogue 5 is very much a part of my love for the battle mech anime genre.

  • Everything I watch and reads affects me in some way, even if it’s just a “What Not To Write”. Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce were both part of my formative years, as was David Eddings.

  • Orson Scott Card was definitely an early influence (I know – I’m conflicted about that now), Tolkien, mythology of Greece, Rome, and England. T.H. White’s take on the Arthurian legends. The Bible’s lyricism in the Old Testament really influenced me – I’m a child of the Psalms and it shows in my imagery some times. The landscape of New England had an enduring influence on my imagination too. Some stories suit certain geographies and vice versa. I think I’d be a very different writer if I had grown up in a place that was hot and dry.

  • Razziecat

    Oh god, everything! Tolkien, absolutely; I think my first-ever attempt at fantasy was directly inspired by LOTR, but also by music (Moody Blues, if anyone wants to know 😀 ). My space opera has Star Trek influences, although I’m trying to purge that and make it more original; it’s not fanfic, it’s just that I’ve watched ST since its inception and only recently realized how much it flavored my writing. Re-reading some of my fantasy stuff from a few years ago, I can pick out the parts that I wrote while reading Judith Tarr’s books. There’s a bit of Moorcock (Elric), some Kurtz (Deryni) and some McCaffrey (Pern). Mythology and religion: Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Nabatean, Wicca and Christianity. Even various fanfics that I’ve read online have given me inspiration.

  • Sagablessed – I’m amused that you’re planning three works out (with some skips in the middle) — isn’t it wonderful to have so many ideas swirling around?!?

    David – You made me laugh, with “Jim Rockford”, but then I saw how perfectly it fit! (And I think those are the best type of “The Player” pitches — taking ideas that are so absolutely clear in our minds from years of familiarity and combining them into something totally new. (Shakespeare, it seemed, didn’t do so much of the combining — he just rolled right over old ideas, presenting them as his own!)

    Kevin – It sounds as if your title is particularly apt!

    Mark – I can’t even imagine what Jim and Joan would look like 🙂

    Daniel – It’s interesting, isn’t it, how many of our inspirations are books written by others (as opposed to the sort of oral tradition that good ol’ Will used so often! Although some of his *were* one-of-a-kind written histories, too…)

    Laura – I agree, that there’s inspiration everywhere, in so many little ways. I’m especially intrigued, after the Shakespeare Festival, by the things we authors tend to lift wholesale!

    Sarah – I remember reading about Georgia O’Keeffe, stating that she found her soul in Abiqui (NM). I found it to be a hot, dry, deserted place, with no souls lurking, but I can’t imagine what her work would have been like, if she’d lived, say, in the rain forest…

    Razziecat – I agree that so much of what we read influences us. It’s the retellings that are calling to me these days… But that’ll pass soon enough, I’m sure 🙂