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Interview with Shannon Hale - On Literary Inspirations

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SH: So when you were writing, you‘d have a literary classic that helps inspire your books. With Breaking Dawn you said it was A Midsummer Night‟s Dream, and you couldn‘t say the second one.

SM: Merchant of Venice—which I do say in the story. You know... [SH gasps] It‘s the book Alice pulls a page from to leave her message for Bella.

SH: I wondered about that.

SM: And, you know, originally it was Jane Eyre that Alice tore a page from. But Jane Eyre had nothing to do with the story. It just got in there because Jane Eyre was one of my best friends growing up. She was a really big part of my life. [Laughs] That‘s why it was in there, because that book was such a big part of my growing-up experience and the way I view the world.

Because, actually, I do think there‘s a Bella–Jane Eyre relationship. Jane Eyre‘s a stoic. She does what she thinks is right, and she takes it—and she doesn‘t mouth off about it. You know, in her head, maybe, she suffers, but she never lets that cross her lips. And I do think that there‘s some of that stoicism—not in the same way, but there‘s a little bit of that—in Bella.

The real story that I felt tied to was A Midsummer Night‟s Dream, where, in this lovely fantasy, the heartbreak of people not loving the right people—which happens all the time—is made right in this glittery instant of fairy dust. I love that book—and that‘s the part I love about it. I enjoyed the character of Bottom in the play, but that‘s not what I read it for. I read it for the magic.

That really is sort of where the imprinting idea came from, which existed in Forever Dawn (the original sequel to Twilight). And I introduced it earlier, so that it would be something already explained, and I wouldn‘t have to go into it later. It was about the magic of setting things right—which doesn‘t happen in the real world, which is absolutely fantasy. But if we can‘t have things made right in fantasy, then where do we get them made right?

So here‘s where The Merchant of Venice comes in. The third book of Breaking Dawn— which is a full half of the novel—was a lot longer than I thought it would end up being. And the whole time I had to have tension building to the final confrontation... but I wanted to give the clue that this was not going to be a physical confrontation. This was a mental confrontation—and if one person loses, everybody dies.

SH: Yeah.

SM: There‘s no way to win this one with a physical fight. Everyone‘s going to lose if that happens. So it‘s a mental battle to survive, and it‘s all about figuring out the right way to word something. Figuring out the right proof to introduce at exactly the right time, so that you can force someone into conceding—just trapping them in their own words.

SH: Because in The Merchant of Venice, Portia stayed with her beloved by being clever.

SM: Exactly. And just with her cleverness and by using the right words, she‘s averting bloodshed and murder from legally happening right in front of her and ruining her life.

SH: When The Merchant of Venice came up in the story, I immediately started going through my mind: What‘s the story of The Merchant of Venice? What does it mean to this book?SM: And in the end of The Merchant of Venice, all the lovers get their happy ending. That‘s one of the reasons I like it. [Laughs]

Can you tell I like the lighter side of Shakespeare? SH: The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night‟s Dream—I like that.

SM: Can you tell I like the lighter side of Shakespeare? I mean, I like the tragedies, too, and Romeo and Juliet is probably my favorite. Which is probably very immature of me, but that‘s the one that always gets me, and I think that‘s part of who I am. [Laughs] That‘s why my books are the way they are—because those are the stories that come alive for me.

SH: It works so well in New Moon. I did also identify with New Moon, though, because there‘s something a little Rochestery about Edward for me.

SM: Yeah. SH: And then Edward leaves—and in Jane Eyre, Jane is the one who leaves. SM: Yeah. SH: And she‘s with St. John, but you know Jane and Mr. Rochester need to be together.

And you don‘t know: Are they going to be together? And then there‘s that little bit of the mystical—when she hears him call her name. And she returns to him, and she saves him. And I love that in New Moon, too. I never get tired of it.

SM: I have never thought of it in that context, and there is so much that works with that comparison. I mean, I‘m going to have to think about this some more later. Because, wow— there is a lot. I have never written a book where I said: ―This one has a Jane Eyre emphasis.‖ But I think you‘re absolutely right.

You know, isn‘t it funny how books influence us? They become a part of who you are. I mean, how much of my childhood that I remember has actually happened to me, and how much of it is the events that were in Anne of Green Gables? You know, I‘m not really sure, because reading was so much of who I was. And those stories were every bit as real—and much more exciting—than the day-to-day boringness that was my life.

But Jane Eyre was this person that I felt like I knew. I think that there‘s a lot of Mr. Rochester in Edward, and I think there‘s a lot of Jane in Edward. Because he would take himself away from a situation that‘s not right, just like she does! And then she‘s like Bella, coming home at the end. But, my goodness, how close that is. I thank you, Shannon Hale. You have enlightened me.

But, actually, the more you get into writing, I think you realize that there is no new story. SH: [Laughs] Well, you‘re welcome. SM: You know, I think... maybe readers who aren‘t writers might look at something like

that—using inspiration from other books—as kind of a form of plagiarism. But, actually, the more you get into writing, I think you realize that there is no new story.

SH: Every story has been told, so you‘re just telling it in a new way. One big reason why it‘s so important to be well read when you‘re writing is because when you write, you can dialogue with everything else that‘s ever been written. The more you read, the more you get to converse with all these other great works. And that makes them more exciting.

SM: Right. I really do believe that, you know, there are no new stories—except maybe Scott Westerfeld. [Laughs] He‘s, like, the one person who always makes me think: No one has ever done exactly that before! [Laughs] But, you know, every story has a basis in all the stories of your life.

SH: I think the most common question any writer gets is: Where do you get your ideas from? And that‘s the impossible question to answer, because, like you said, they come from...

or..SM: A million places. SH: Everything: everything you experienced or imagined or thought or smelled or read

SM: A person you walked by in the airport once that just—you know, you saw a look in their eye, and you started spinning a story about what was going on in that person‘s head.

SH: And, of course, a story isn‘t just one idea. The more you write, the more you‘re drawing on a million different pieces of things. That‘s why it takes so long to write a story, because I start out with an idea... but the more I write, I realize it‘s just the kernel—because I‘m adding more and more depth and intrigue. And along with the characters, it builds to a whole universe.

SM: It really does. I was trying to describe this recently, about how you have this universe of possibilities. And every time you pick one thing for your story—like Bella is brunette—all her blond and redheaded possibilities disappear. And then, when you pick the kind of car somebody drives, there are a million other vehicles, makes, and models that suddenly die. And as you narrow it down, you‘re just taking pieces of it and destroying whole worlds that could have been. It‘s a very interesting process.

SH: I‘ve got chills.

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