A writer acquaintance of mine likes to talk about “filing off the serial numbers,” by which she means taking the elements of a thing you like, something that sparks your imagination, and removing the specific bits that make it unique (and copywritten! plagiarism is bad, kiddos!) and replacing them with some other new bits of your own creation. It’s a useful metaphor if your brain works that way, but mine doesn’t. For one thing, imagining hunching over someone else’s beautifully crafted work and painstakingly rubbing away the stamped letters with a file–how tedious!
I prefer to imagine a cauldron, or maybe a compost heap. Everything you read, watch, encounter, experience, gets tossed in the soup or on the pile, and out of that multifarious stew arises–well, who knows what? Stories germinate in there, and pull up through their roots all manner of influences. The final result is something new, something that grows out of your own brain, but it also partakes of those influences.
It’s fun sometimes to examine our own works and identify the specific influences that went into a specific aspect of the work. This weekend past I was reading the new Dark Tower book from Stephen King, and one of Roland’s behaviors reminded me of my own heroine, Aine. So I thought I’d sit down here and blather a bit about some of my favorite fictional characters who influenced her creation.
Utena Tenjou – Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Back in college (way back when) anime was just starting to be a big deal in the States and you could find more shows than just Vampire Hunter D, Akira and Fist of the North Star, and one of my new favorites was Utena. (It’s still a favorite, actually, despite its bizarre ending.) Our heroine is idealistic to the point of naiveté, defending her loved ones and her values in the face of a concerted attack by the forces of evil to destroy her. Besides her delightful tomboyishness, it’s her purity of soul that inspires me. Even when it seems that evil has succeeded in breaking her heart and her spirit, she rallies and fights on, even unto the ultimate sacrifice. In the end, she is victorious.
Lightning – Final Fantasy XIII
Truth: I haven’t actually played Final Fantasy XIII, or any other video games since Kingdom Hearts II (the life of a freelance-artist-cum-writer-cum-mommy, le sigh), but Lightning is exactly the sort of character who appeals to me … it’s possible, on a subconscious level, that seeing the artwork for FF13 is part of what made me want to pick up Steel Butterfly again. Lightning is taciturn, troubled, passionate–sort of a female version of Cloud from FF7. Oh, and she’s good with a sword too.
Cameron – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Not Sarah Connor, although Sarah as played by Lena Heady may be my favorite character ever. (Okay, TV character. Because have you read Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold? Cordelia is the. Best. Character. Ever. Every book, movie, TV show, stage play, video game, you name it, needs More Cordelia. But I digress.) Cameron is a strange machine, broken and malfunctional, a danger to the people she loves. Wait, loves? Can a Terminator feel love? (Well, Terminator 3 implies that the machines have something in them that can help them overcome their programming–call it a soul, or will, or something else. But I digress again.) Cameron’s combination of vulnerability and relentlessness really resonate in my imagination.
Roland – The Dark Tower
Stephen King’s Gunslinger is kind of a human Terminator: the only thing that matters to him is the mission (quest. thing). He may get hurt, even maimed; all his comrades may be killed or left behind; all hope of success may be lost; but he will stagger on until his dying breath. Unrelenting pursuit of the quest is a strong common thread in the characters that have inspired me (that, and pink hair and badass weapons mastery. Sorry, Roland, but two out of three ain’t bad); Roland’s single-mindedness is perhaps more disturbing than Cameron’s because he’s still human. He may drop you off a cliff or feed you to zombies if that’s what it takes to get him one step closer to the Tower, but he’ll feel bad about it afterwards. But guilt–even less than zombies, werewolves, cyborg Doctor Doom robot things, mutant lobsters, giant spiders, witches, marauders, lawyers, etc–will not slow him down for long.
Aerin – The Hero and the Crown
Saving the earliest for last–and, honestly, is there a fantasy or YA author (published or would-be) alive who hasn’t been influenced by Robin McKinley? She is a giant in the field. But I digress yet again. Aerin is the kind of person I wanted to be when I was 12; recuperating from an illness, she teaches herself to make a magic flame-repelling ointment that will let her go out and kill dragons. She is methodical, patient, scientific, undaunted by failure (the ointment recipe lacks measurements, and the ingredients are some of them hard to come by–and she still figures it out), unwavering even when the task at hand is bigger than she thought it would be: not just exterminating little pesty dragons, but taking on a big one–not just killing a Great Dragon, but saving the kingdom.
It’s important (for me, anyway) to add that I didn’t think about this influences in advance. I made up a character, and I wrote about the things she did, and only looking back at what I’d written afterward did it become clear what specific influences went into her making.
How about you guys? What characters inspire you? Who are some of your all-time favorites?