I have several authors whom I list as my favorites, or as my greatest influences. I believe a lot of writers probably do the same.
A writer (or artist of any discipline, really) takes a little bit from every piece of work they read or experience. And that’s really the best way to learn. We learn to tell great stories by imitating other great storytellers.
Learning by Imitation
When we’re first learning, the imitation is often just that: a thinly-disguised copy of a favorite story or an obvious mimicry of another author’s style. And that’s okay, because we’re still in the early stages of learning and developing our own style. Our influences are more apparent.
I wrote my first fantasy series when I was about 11 or 12, I think. I wrote two and half books of a fantasy series, the first book of which was basically The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with all the names changed. I was highly influenced by C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and had already read the series several times by that age. (Obviously my near-plagiarism book was never published, although I’ve re-worked the magical world I invented and plan to write some slightly more original stories in the future).
C.S. Lewis still remains a great influence in my creative process, along with J.R.R. Tolkien, because of the complex worlds they built and epic stories they told. I’m also a great fan of screenwriter Straczynski and his epic sci-fi space opera series Babylon 5. When I’m in epic fantasy writing mode, I study their methods for character arcs, foreshadowing, plot threads, world building, and other elements that go into telling a convincing fantasy saga.
Perhaps my greatest influence, though, and the writer I usually cite as my all-time favorite author, is Beatrix Potter.
The stories of Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten and others were some of the first books I remember my mom reading to me when I was very little. Everything about the stories captivated me: the animals, the old-fashioned country lifestyle, the fairy-tale nature of the stories, the enchanting illustrations.
I’ve never actually tried to imitate Beatrix Potter’s stories or storytelling style, however, and (thus far) I’ve never written a children’s book. However, I consider her my favorite author and greatest influence because her books made me fall in love with stories.
From her books, I learned about the importance of an engaging protagonist, like the spunky and mischievous Peter Rabbit. I learned about tension and suspense to keep the reader turning the pages from reading The Roly-Poly Pudding. I learned how to blur the lines between fantasy and the “real world” in a story, as the human character Lucy in The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle doesn’t find out till the end that the old washer woman was actually a hedgehog. I learned how a sad story can still have a happy ending, like The Tailor of Gloucester.
As an adult, I’ve learned more about Beatrix Potter apart from her books, and I can say that she’s more of an influence to me now than ever before. An intelligent woman with a sharp and scientific mind, she had a deep love for animals and nature; she also knew what she wanted in life, and refused to let people or circumstances keep her from her dreams.
If I can count her as an influence to help me keep pressing forward with my dreams, then that I would consider to be the greatest influence of all.
Who’s your greatest writing influence?