For genre writers, the genre they love can often create a box of ideas that constrict, as well as define, their genre. How many fantasy writers have emulated Tolkien’s work? Too many, to be sure. Some take such inspiration and create a worthy, unique and glorious story of their own. Robert Jordan comes readily to mind. But far more fall into a trite pit of repetition and duplication.
Often, genre writers read heavily (and borrow heavily) from the genre they love. It’s natural. I write fantasy because I love reading fantasy. While I do emulate certain works I love, I emulate the spirit of those works, or rather the rhythm and texture of the story.
When I borrow, I borrow from stories outside my genre. And I only borrow quilt pieces, not the whole cloth.
Consider the fantasy novel I am developing: There is a prince and there is a peasant. Part of their relationship emulates Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit. Part of their relationship emulates Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The peasant I am creating is not likely to resemble Amy Dorrit or Jane Eyre in any easily recognizable fashion, nor is the prince I am creating likely to resemble Arthur Clennam or Edward Rochester. But these characters fascinate and move me, and there are facets of these characters and their character arcs that have served to inspire traits of and difficulties faced by my own characters.
There is nothing new under the sun. Writers are inspired by and borrow from works they love. But if you’re stuck in your genre, you’re not likely to break out of that box. The box may get even tighter if your tastes are so narrow that you’re not even exposed to the fringes of your own genre. Take the time to savor the flavor of a different kind of work. Dip into the vast ocean of literary works and find your inspiration, your quilt pieces, and then craft your own work into something fresh, new, unique, and wholly your own.