Monday, April 28, 2014

Reading Outside Your Genre

Stephen King, Clive Barker, and every other writer worth his ink has said that, in order to write, one must read.  Read the masters of your craft, read the people who inspire you to be better, read until your eyeballs bleed, then read some more.  Reading is your textbook.  The authors are your professors.  And you hope one day to take over the classroom for some other youngster, who thinks of you as a master of your craft.  It makes sense that you need to read as much as possible in your genre to understand the tropes, the nuances, the little things that are specific to your line of thought.  But I'm here to posit the opinion that it is just as important to read outside your genre as well.

My genre is horror.  I cut my teeth on Lovecraft, Poe, Matheson, Barker, Blackwood, and King.  I obsessively devour books by Braunbeck and Waggoner and adore anything that goes bump in the night.  But that's not all I read.  Reading only those things in my genre, believe it or not, stagnate the writer in my opinion.  Think about this:  Your life doesn't just hit one note, does it?  In any given day, you have moments of horror, comedy, history, passion, even sci-fi and fantasy.  So why should you limit yourself to just one genre?  Sure, you may treasure the moments of passion most in your day (or not… I don't really know you…), but if there is nothing but that, it soon becomes boring, doesn't it?  Variety is the spice of life, and of reading.

Pictured:  My reading shelf.  Also, epic sneeze in 3…2…1...

So here's my challenge to you.  Take a good long look at whatever your genre is.  Horror?  Sci-Fi?  Whatever.  Just take a look at it, then head over to your local mom-and-pop bookseller and pick up two novels that are not in that genre.  It helps if at least one of them is what you consider to be the polar opposite of your genre.  For example, if you prefer horror, pick up something in the YA field.  If you prefer Sci-Fi, pick up something of the old west or alt history.  If you write nothing but bunnies and rainbows, pick up something pretty gruesome and try to fight your way through it.

Why would I make that suggestion?  Because it will make you a better writer.  Everything you read influences you in some way, right?  You take pieces from everything around you and create your fantasy worlds from those patches of your experience.  Just like your life, just like every other thing in the world, nothing hits one note forever.  We are not a single ringing chord, but a symphony of experience.  We are a pentatonic scale of notes that crescendos and wanes.  And unless we want our sonata to be a symphony of one note, we must embrace the other instruments at our disposal.  To that end, below, I'm listing a few of my favorite novels that are not horror.  Leave a comment with some of your favorites below!

  • The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (Sci-Fi, Comedy)
  • Storm Front:  Book One of the Dresden Files - Jim Butcher (Dark Urban Fantasy)
  • Dune - Frank Herbert (Sci-Fi)
  • The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien (Fantasy)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (Childrens)
  • Rot and Ruin - Jonathan Mayberry (YA Horror)
  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich - Adam Rex (Childrens)
  • Dragonflight - Anne McCaffery (Fantasy)
  • Harpo Speaks - Harpo Marx (Biography)
And yes, I've read all of these.  That's the point.  You can't go through your writing career reading just one thing over and over.  I mean, you can, but it doesn't allow for much growth.  Different genres are there to tantalize you.  Don't pigeon-hole yourself.  Write your story and let it find its own audience.  Why limit yourself to just one genre, when there are whole worlds out there for you to discover?

1 comment:

  1. For the first time ever, I not only set a quantitative reading challenge for 2014 (to read at least 50 books this year), I also set a qualitative challenge: I made a list of 25 categories, mostly comprised of different genres or types of books, to force myself out of my usual historical romance comfort zone. Some of the categories are: Classics, Fantasy, non-romance Historical Fiction, Mystery, Nonfiction: History or Biography, Nonfiction: Professional Development, Horror/Paranormal, Science Fiction, Young Adult, General/Literary fiction, and Time Travel. Of the 18 books I've completed already this year, more than half of them tick boxes in those "out of my comfort zone" categories.

    And so far, one of my highest rated books that I've read this year is from one of my non-comfort-zone categories: Lightning by Dean Koontz (Time Travel).