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Thursday 20 Jun 2024

Influences on Writing
AJ Robinson

When you’re looking to write a story, you need to be aware of the fact that there are two areas of influence: internal and external. The internal, well, that’s you. It’s your baggage; your life story, your experience, what you know.

The baggage Stephen King carries.

Ask yourself this question. Where do most Stephen King stories take place? The answer is Maine. Why; well, King likes Maine, for many reasons including it is where he lives, literally and figuratively.

I set many of my stories on islands because I spent my youth on Martha’s Vineyard, an island in the Atlantic, off the east coast of Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. I love the island. Even when I’m not writing about the Vineyard, I like my book or movie to take place on one.

Of course, a location is a simple trope. What you must guard against is letting your various views on social issues, politics, body types, religion and so forth permeate your story. It’s one thing to have your main characters mimic your views, but you need to be careful that you don’t always paint your villains or comedic characters as buffoons who are extreme examples of different views.

When I wrote my first book for children, Lexa and the Gordian Maze of Terra, I had a scene where she and her friends reached a place called The Temple. This was a centre of religion for the planet.

While there, someone hands Lexa a booklet. She asks her friend Kel what it is. It’s a copy of The Watchtower, which Jehovah’s Witnesses give out on street corners or door-to-door. Now, myself, I’m not a Witness, but my in-laws are; although I don’t follow their beliefs, I respect them.

In fact, I even asked my in-laws if they thought their church would object to me mentioning their religion in my story. When I explained the outline, they said the church would probably be delighted. From their point of view, most any story that didn’t ridicule them or make them out as bad people was practically a ringing endorsement; they approved of the book.

When it comes to external influences, well, that’s the era in which you’re writing your story. How will it affect your story? A great way of seeing this is by looking at things like sitcoms or something as specific as Disney animated movies.

Let’s consider the latter first. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic film. It easily ranks as one of the top motion pictures of all time. Yet, truth is the film doesn’t age too well.

Snow White, the character, comes across as a little too goodie-goodie; she’s such a wimp, too. When she runs off into the forest, the trees come to life and grab her, which scares her. Mind you, they don’t really do it, as in The Wizard of Oz; it’s all in the imagination Snow White.

Later, in the story, Snow White earns her keep, with the dwarfs, by cooking, cleaning and taking care of the house. She’s essentially a domestic servant. Later, who saves her? Prince Charming, who shows up at the last minute to kiss her and off they go for their fairy tale ending.

Think of it, would that story fly these days? Would you expect Anna or Elsa, from the Disney animation, Froze, act that way? If they did, just imagine how audiences would react.


When it comes to sitcoms, just consider the portrayals of the over the years. In I Love Lucy, Lucy was practically a child at times and Ricky was not hesitant to turn her over his knee, literally, for a dose of old fashioned discipline. These days, Bonnie, on Mom, may engage in a little slap and tickle with her boyfriend, but it’s strictly in a sexual connotation a la Fifty Shades of Grey.

It’s worth noting that Lucy, on I Love Lucy, was not only a child. She strove, in a comedic way, for independence, in the form a job, if not a career, outside the home. Her efforts to be somewhat independent drove the plot, of the show; in some ways, her family a device that facilitated her search for independence.

By the 1960s and 1970s, there was “The Partridge Family, a widow turning her large brood of children into a successful singing group; The Brady Bunch, featuring a straight-laced blended family, and All in the Family, social and political humour in a dysfunctional family. Today, if you watched an old episode of All in the Family, you’d need an internet search engine ready to do historical searches to understand some of the jokes.

You need to be aware of external influences, when writing. When I was writing the first Lexa book, she only had a mother. Then, as I wrote more of the story, I asked myself why was I doing that? Then it came to me. That’s how many of the stories, of that era, were like that.

Do not yield to convention.

If that’s important to the storyline, fine, but to do that merely because it’s the standard of the day is pointless. That’s yielding to convention. So, watch out for undo influences in your writing, and always strive to find your own voice.

Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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