Saturday, September 3, 2011

Guest Post on Inspiration by Dill Werner

Allow me to give an introduction; I am Dill Werner, a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and a Bachelor’s in German language. During my first three years, I attended the College of Charleston, where I encountered Shawn C. Sproatt. I now work at my Alma Mater and will be studying for my MFA in Creative writing next year. I am writing on more novels than I can count on my fingers, but my most important is a book called “Status: Positive.” The introduction can be read on my deviant art page:

Currently, I have placed myself in a creative bubble as I write my next novel. The following blurb gives a simple explanation of the plot for “Status: Positive.”
Blue Stevens is a teenage girl struggling to find her identity in a world divided between Positive and Negative, Gay and Straight. She's spent ten years living on the Southampton Reserve for Segregated Homosexuals, a contained community cut off from the general population, with same-sex parents. Join Blue as she tries to find her place as a positive person living in a negative world.

I have barred myself from reading any books or short stories that my influence my writing. I won’t read “The Hunger Games” or see the new “Atlas Shrugged” movie. This is a direct contrast to my normal research-based method of writing. Normally, I wade through mountains of pictures, articles, books and films. I find inspiration comes easiest to me through visual stimuli. If I am writing a wedding scene, I will research different patterns, fabrics and cuts of dresses to use for the bride. When I have an image in my mind, the story plays out like a movie. I will see her getting dressed, slipping on her shoes. Then another character comes in to play. What are they wearing? What is special about their facial features? How do they interact? Little bits of color allow the reader to make a connection to the characters and to the story.

Now, I have faced my greatest challenge; starting from scratch. The novel I am working on is a dystopian, coming-of-age tale. I have a list of literature that I could read; “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “The Bar Code Tattoo” by Suzanne Weyn, and several others. I will admit that I began listening to the audiobook for “Under the Dome” by Stephen King, but stopped due to cross-contamination threats. I do not want to be influence by so many authors who have come before me. From the beginning, I knew I would face the threat of “borrowing” from other writers. How do you write something that has been done before while still being original?

Thankfully, I haven’t been exposed to many dystopian novels. I know their themes, but have tried not to be formulaic with my plot lines. When creating your own world, it is easier to make up new rules. I find that some questions answer themselves while others don’t need to be answered at all. I developed a looking glass version of our world. For example, the area where my characters live is called the Anglo-Continent. It’s a large island divided into five regions: North, South, East, West and the Middle region. Each region is self-sustained while being governed by a set of rules. This allowed me to build the Reserves in remote areas of the continent, which has concentrated populations due to its size. Imagine only being able to live in certain cities in your state. Not only does this allow me to control a smaller population, but it explains how the government is able to have such strict control over its people.

I will admit that I was first inspired to write this novel while reading Mary Anne Moody’s “Coming of Age in Mississippi” for an American History class. One scene in particular stuck out in my mind. Moody described how she and her fellow civil rights activists would be taken away from their sit-ins hot vans. They would then be locked inside of the cars, sometimes for hours, in the hot Mississippi summer sun. Other times, they were contained in makeshift pens much like those that would contain cattle. First, my mind turned to concentration camps. Being half-German and having German language as one of my majors meant I’d had a plenty of experience with World War II survival stories. My main theme came to me; segregation.

There, in my bedroom with Moody’s book in my hand, I saw a little girl entering a bus with her father. What was special about her? Where was she going? Then, I saw the looming walls approaching. She was being placed into segregation. At the time, I was taking my final Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop during my senior year. I was faced with a task I still find to be impossible; writing a short story. I am a novelist. I believe that I lack the physical ability to write a contained short story that is less than 30-pages. My first attempt was horrible, but the foundation was there.

I have had this desire from the beginning to make sure everything I was writing came exclusively from my mind. I didn’t want someone to pick up this novel and say, “Oh, she borrowed X and Z from Orwell” or “This is just another version of Ayn Rand.” If I have been influenced by other writers, then it was by mistake. There are so many practical questions which must be asked. I do have to research certain architectural facts. I by no means have any idea how cities are built. My biggest question was and still is: How can a community exist while completely segregated from the rest of the country? I’ve found it’s easiest to address the most practical questions and not dwell too much on the minute details.

I could easily open one of the several dystopian novels in my local library to find the answers. I won’t let myself take shortcuts. There’s something so rewarding about being able to say, “I did it myself.” If I get things wrong, then I get them wrong. The best thing about developing your own world is being able to revert to the classic because-I-said-so mentality. I shall continue writing, working, and living in my bubble until my novel is completed. I wish all of the readers of Shawn C. Sproatt’s blog the best of luck in their future writing. I hope I provided a little inspiration and asked a few questions you’d be happy to answer.

Feel free to contact me on twitter @dillwerner or Facebook
You may read more of my writing on at
Happy Writing!

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