We’ve all heard the saying that humans are “creatures of habit.” Especially when it comes to selecting reading material, I think that this statement is essentially true. Since immersing myself in the writing community, I know that reading within the genre you are writing may seem, to many, like an obvious path to success within that genre.
However, when it comes to diversifying my reading and taking a chance on genres that I am not writing in, I know that I find myself struggling to commit and wary of what I will find. On top of that, my time is limited already and if I’m not reading something for pleasure or fun (usually the type I can find in genres that I already know and love), then what is the point?
Despite this, I can honestly say that reading outside of my favorite and writing genre (YA
fantasy) has led me to grow as both a reader and writer, if not a person.
Here are a few reasons why you should also consider reading outside of your writing genre, specifically in order to become a better writer.
1. Get better understanding of specific story elements
Chances are, your story, no matter the genre, has specific story elements that are
prevalent in that genre. For example, the romantic, angst-ridden love triangle that is prevalent in a lot of YA books. Or depending on your type of mystery, there is probably a red herring (or two) and specific clues found along the way that lead up to the capture or defeat of the killer. Story elements blend, and we can see them in different ways depending on the genre, but by taking a closer examination at the genre as a whole, we can help our own delivery of that story element, even if it is just one component of our story.
For example, consider the way that tension, suspense, and intrigue play a part in a
mystery or thriller novel. Reading the way the author builds the clues, lays out the intensely stressful moments, and finds moments of emotional reprieve throughout can be helpful in writing your sci-fi story, even if you have androids and laser guns instead of detectives and snub nosed revolvers.
2. Genre blending can attract new and different readers
In education, there is a term, “cross-curricular education,” that emphasizes the
importance of letting the subjects bleed together because, chances are, that if you incorporate a little bit of history or science into your English class, you will be able to engage more students who like those subjects but find English detestable.
Similarly, by bleeding some of the components of other genres into your writing, you
may find yourself with new, interested readers who wouldn’t have otherwise picked up your
novel if you hadn’t included some of the genre-blending aspects.
3. New twists on old stories
All stories have been told, right? So how is it that we keep churning them out? We twist
them, of course. And the chances of you twisting yours in an original and unused way if you only read one genre becomes smaller and smaller. When we read outside of our genre, we increase our story fodder brain folder, which can lead to new, innovative ways to take a story and make it your own. This is also really helpful when marketing your book or self-publishing it because people like retellings, but what makes yours unique enough to read?
Take, for example, the fact that both Cinder by Marissa Meyers and Throne of Glass by
Sarah J. Maas were loosely based upon the Cinderella story, a girl who finds herself in the world of royalty, and yes, they both have a ball. However, these stories are as vastly different as assassins and androids can get, and they each take the original premise of Cinderella and spin them in unique ways. Cinder definitely has a more science fiction, futuristic twist while Throne of Glass stays in a fantastical realm, but flips the fairy tale in a dark way.
4. Market trends that may affect your genre later
This one is short, but sweet. Think of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray. Two completely
different genres, audiences, and stories, but Fifty Shades started out as fanfiction for Twilight.
You can never predict how the market will change, but by reading outside of your genre, at least you have the chance to notice when things do change and what readers want or expect in the current marketplace.
5. Getting better at reading as a writer
One of the best parts about reading as a writer is that you increase your chance to see
both good and bad writing. This is helpful because, as you read outside of your genre, you get the chance to see different types of narratives, styles, techniques, ideas, and methods for problem-solving that you wouldn’t necessarily get from reading the same genre(s) all the time.
Think about the way that biographies and memoirs are presented in a way that you may
frame an epistolary novel like The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday by David Corbett. Or maybe the way that the technology in near future science fiction plays a role in the way that the world has changed to include Death-Cast calls in They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.
When you read outside of your genre, you can begin to identify things that transcend genres and things that you want to do or not do in your own work.
In short, reading outside of your genre may not be the most exciting, but you may be surprised at how it can expand your writing skills and abilities, so why not give a new genre a try?
Leslie Arambula is a multi-genre writer, teacher, wife, and mother of three. She recently received her Master's in Creative Writing and had her first prose poem published in The RAC Magazine. She is currently working on her debut novel and enjoys spending her downtime playing video games and doing art projects with her kids.
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