My middle works were more about finding my own voice, but they still show influences of more modern writers. There's a bit of Nora Roberts in Cabin Fever, some Katherine Kurtz in Frankenstein's Captain (formerly known as Kara's Captain) and some Victoria Holt in Shooting Star. I've read so many books by these authors, its impossible not to be influenced by their talents. Much the same way a painter will take a brush stroke from Rembrandt, a shading technique from Maxfield Parrish or a composition idea from Bob Ross, writers take their techniques from authors they love.
When it comes to world building, I have to say JRR Tolkien and Diana Gabaldon are the two authors whose stories suck me in the most. Each, however, does it a very different way. Tolkien focuses on plot and action -- the characters are less important than what happens in the story. When you come right down to it, Aragorn could be Any Hero with the Right Bloodline. Frodo is Any Little Guy who has a Big Job to do. While we come to love these guys, the reality is, there isn't much to them. It's the actions they're forced to deal with, the actions that move the plot along, that we focus on.
Tolkien also maintains a focus on imagery throughout his stories. He wants us to see Middle Earth in our imaginations. His descriptions are vivid and detailed, so much so that they've provided livelihoods for many artists (Howe, Naismith, Lee, and the Hildebrandt brothers, among others). These descriptions bring the world to life for us and give us a world to live in.
Diana Gabaldon's focus in creating the many worlds of the Outlander series, is on character. Yes, she employs imagery in her descriptions, but it isn't Lallybroch or Fraser's Ridge that first comes to mind when thinking of these stories -- it's Jamie and Claire. And Frank. And Dougal, Murtaugh and Jenny. We remember the events of Culloden, not because she describes the battle in technicolor gore (well, okay, she does, but that's not why we remember it). We remember the scene because it affected the characters we love. We saw a broken Jamie and our hearts hurt. We saw men we loved defeated and beaten and we cried.
Both approaches work. A focus on plot or a focus on character. Neither ignores the one for the other, mind. Tolkien has characters evolve, Gabaldon gives us plots that interweave, separate, come together again and end.
I am currently at work on an epic fantasy. I can only hope I've learned well from these two!
Which approach fits your style of creating a world for your story? Which comes first...plot or character? In your journal, take some time to think it though.