Why to read what you don’t write: The importance of reading outside your genre

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Some authors say they don’t have time to read. That’s like a starving castaway saying he has no time to eat. You’re not that confused, are you?

But maybe you have a similar problem: You have no relationships with books outside your niche. For example, your write youth fantasy and read only youth fantasy. Why is this wrong? There’s a nasty word for families that have relationships only with themselves. Authors who only read their genre may fall into that same category.

The problem: each genre has its downfalls. As a historical fiction author, I’ll focus there. It tends to get a bad rap for two reasons:
1.Too much research and telling instead of showing. In the attempt to get the facts just right, the author turns the novel into a textbook. It then lacks dialogue and fills entire chapters with facts that the reader does not honestly need to know. Or even care to know. (Remember, as the author, you should have “deleted scenes” and information that only you know. It makes you feel special, like you have a secret.)

2.Two dimensional, stereotyped characters. With so much focus on the plot, the characters sometimes have no real personality. In other words, if I want to write about the battle of Gettysburg, I’ll find out the events involved and use the characters and story-pawns. I can finish writing a book this way, but this lack of characterization keeps many readers from the book and doesn’t “wow” those who read it.

 

The solution?

Answer this: What does your genre struggle with?
Then read books that do the opposite.

Here’s the historical fiction example again.
1. For me to overcome the research overload, I read youth fiction. I’m currently reading Gordon Korman’s On the Run series. It’s the fastest pace series I’ve ever read because of the length (150 small pages each), the simple vocab, and the lack of overly descriptive scenes and back story. These are all ideas that can protect me from the downfalls of historical fiction.

2. Although much youth fiction has excellent characters, I go back to the classics for this. Why do people still read stories like Hamlet or Great Expectations? True, because your high school teacher made you. But what about the ones we read even when no one makes us? What about the ones we read even though we could just watch the movie? What about the ones like The Count of Monte Cristo, which almost match the length of Stephen King’s The Stand? Although these are old stories that often have strange vocabulary and extended unedited sections (think Moby Dick), we love the characters.
The stories have lasted because we care.

It’s your turn. 1) What does your writing lack? 2) Get 2-3 books that will enjoyably show you another option. Next time you’re at the library or searching for books online, check another genre and see what it has to offer.

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