I’ve been reading some of what I jokingly call Old School fantasy, the books published in the 80s (sometimes the 70s, but with sequels published in the 80s). In part, I wanted to get back to my own fantasy roots, the things I read after discovering Tolkien that ended up leading to me wanting to write fantasy. I’m not exactly following my reading trajectory, but I am picking up some of the books on that line that I haven’t revisited in a long time. One other reason I’m rereading these books is that I thought it would be a good idea to read the things I was reading when I first came up with the idea I’m working on to see what bits of influence might have crept in.
I have found that some things from books I remember reading around that time are in my story idea — not so much that it’s any kind of outright copying or plagiarism, just some tropes showing up. I think part of this is that a lot of my story ideas come from reading a book that’s almost, but not quite, exactly the book I want to read. There’s something in it that really appeals to me, but it focuses on something else or does it in a way I’m not crazy about. Then I think of how it could go the way I want it to go, and a story idea is born.
One thing that seemed to come up a lot in that era — and that’s in the book I came up with — is the evil wizard who’s controlling the weather and using it as a weapon. Except in most of the books I’ve read with that plot element, the wizard makes it winter. I’m doing one in which the wizard makes it hot and dry, creating a dust bowl. Being from Texas, I find that a lot more nightmarish. Well, I did until last week, when it was freezing and I didn’t have power. It did kind of feel like some evil wizard had suddenly zapped us. The good guys must have won, though, because it was about 80 degrees warmer yesterday afternoon than the low temperature was a week earlier. It’s bizarre to think that last week I was bundled up in blankets and freezing, with snow on the ground, and this week I’ve been sitting out on the patio to work.
Another trope I’m seeing a lot of — and that I’m not using in this book — is the inept apprentice wizard who’s actually some new kind of wizard who can do unusual things, but they don’t realize that at first because he does things in a different way, so trying to do magic conventionally doesn’t work for him. And this kind of wizard always seems to be a klutz. I do like the idea of the person who only seems incompetent because he’s in a league of his own and his teachers have been trying to force him into the standard mold, but I don’t see why this character always has to be tripping over his own feet and knocking things over.
Noticing the plot elements and character types that seem to have been top of mind when I came up with the idea allows me to be conscious of these influences so I can avoid duplicating earlier books without realizing it. As long as it’s been since I came up with this story idea, there’s a real danger that something might have seeped in without me being aware of it. I remember the strangest bits from these old books, and there’s a lot I didn’t recall as being specifically from these books but that’s still been churning around in my brain.
And I’m not going to tell what books these are because I don’t want anyone looking for influences. Maybe I’ll discuss them some other time in a different context.