Creative Writing Tip: Read Outside Your Genre

1179701_old_books_2While reading in your genre is a wonderful tip–in fact, it’s very necessary–for any author, today I want to explore the benefits I’ve received from reading outside my genre: specifically, the benefits I’ve gotten, as a writer, from reading literary fiction and classic British detective fiction (looking your way, Agatha Christie)

As you all know, I’m a fantasy writer. I write sword and sorcery fantasy, and I have a blast doing that.

I also read a lot of fantasy, as is evident if you read my fiction. My magic system in Herezoth (for full-blooded sorcerers, at least) is a lot like magic in Harry Potter, except it isn’t wand dependent and is affected not only by genetics, but by the extent to which your bloodline has used those powers through the generations.

Still, a number of my greatest literary influences don’t come from fantasy. Reading outside your genre will help your writing in many ways. These are just the tip of the iceberg, really.

  • It will get you thinking in new ways. Genre fiction usually tends to develop through similar patterns. The plots and character arcs can be similar from book to book. That’s not say each fantasy novel or detective novel isn’t unique in its way; each is. But there’s something about reading Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway that really sparks my creativity. The stories are so different from what I write and what I usually read that my brain has to adjust. That is a wonderful thing.
  • You can discover ways to innovate and adapt your writing. Chalk this up to the creativity sparks. Reading outside your genre allows you to compare what you’re reading to your genre. You approach your genre from a different angle, see new possibilities, and find ways to personalize your fiction that are crazy exciting for you.
  • You get to take a breather and either stave off or work through a burnout.Β As much as I love fantasy, and I love my writing, sometimes I burn out, and I need a break. I need to turn to something different. If you can recognize the signs of an impending burnout, you can even prevent it from getting bad by striking preemptively and reading something fresh and different.
  • You get an adventure. Life’s all about new experiences and new discoveries. Reading something that’s new and different for you means embarking on a personal journey you’ve never taken before. It will help you grow not only as a person, but as a writer. I learned so much about Asian and Asian-American culture through Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. That’s a window into a world I was previously blind to.

So there you have it: a reminder from your friendly neighborhood author to take a break from your reader status quo every now and again.

How often do you read outside your genre? What are some of the best books you’re read that aren’t in the genre you write? How have such books impacted your writing?

Feel free to comment! I’d love to hear from you. And if you enjoyed this post, consider signing up to follow my blog through email (form’s at the top right of the page.)

30 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: Read Outside Your Genre

  1. I don’t read out of my genre too often. It’s only recently that I started because I made friends with authors of other genres. I did learn how to implement strengths of those genres into my own. For example, I learned how to do romantic scenes better when I read a few romance eBooks. I was iffy on it beforehand, but I think I have a better handling on it.

    • that’s awesome!!! I have to admit, I’ve never read a romance novel. No offense to fans of romance: I just can’t get past the stereotypes of the genre. That’s a problem with me, not with your preferred reading/writing material

      I go for action/adventure and literary fiction when I step out. I think lit fic has taught me a lot about how I prefer to do romance: I don’t like it to be the center of things.

      Also, crime fiction. I love classic British detective fiction.

      • I don’t mean to come across as bashing romance writers…. I know for sure there is a lot of profound romance written nowadays exploring serious issues in our world. I’m just too cynical about myself and my own prospects to appreciate romance. Like I said before, that’s all about me and my issues, not the genre. πŸ™‚

  2. Lorraine Marie Reguly

    I have just nominated you for The “Shine On” Award. You can read the details about this award here: http://lorrainemariereguly.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/the-shine-on-award/

  3. Like Charles, I started reading outside my genre because of contacts that I have made through writer’s groups. I have been exposed to many different forms and have learned that a lot of my preconceptions about certain genres were wrong.

    For example, the blog of M. P. Cory was so well written that I checked out her contemporary romance “High”, which is a book that I never would have picked up based on the description, because I don’t read romances.

    As it happens, “High” really impressed me with Cory’s characterization and beautiful descriptions, and changed how I feel about romance as a genre.

    • That is AWESOME. Everyone always hears about the “rom-com” type, cliche, horribly written and sappy romances. I have no doubt at all there are some fantastically written and deep romances out there.

      You’re better than me: I can’t pick up a romance novel. I cant’ beat down the stereotype. And I’m missing out on some fantastic novels as a result.

  4. I started reading mysteries as I had this notion to do a Fantasy Mystery story. However, I wanted something on a small scale mystery so I started reading M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series. Hamish is a beat cop who live in a small fishing village up in the Highlands of Scotland. His curiosity lands him in the middle of murders or a fairly regular basis. I started with just a couple and then found myself reading all of them! I never was a big fan of mysteries until her books. Now I’ll have to try a hand at a couple of her romance novels.

    • that’s awesome!!! her stories sound like a lot of fun. I’d never heard of them and I LOVE books from across the pond! πŸ™‚ I”ll have to check the Hamish Macbeth series for sure. Thanks so much for sharing.

      I think we all grow and a learn a lot when we stretch outside our reading comfort zone.

    • Oh! Those sound great, I’m checking them out now!

  5. I am now into some Sci-Fi (Kevin J. Anderson-The Last Days of Krypton), Zombies (Kevin J. Anderson-Death Warmed Over), Vampires (Stephenie Meyers–finally reading Twilight)…and next on to more fantasy! I typically do not read these genres, but I am exploring writing styles. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the variety, especially the Zombie books. What a hoot.

    • I’ve never read zombies or vampires myself πŸ™‚ Might give zombies a try down the road. Vampires are definitely not my thing, though. I think it’s really awesome that you’re reading so much new stuff! Thanks for your thoughts. I would never on my own have considered picking up a zombie book!

  6. I realized the other day that although in many ways I considered myself well read, I have been seriously lacking in the classics. Oh sure, I’ve read a few, but not many. My favorite, Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, I haven’t read for many, many years. Some, I have never read. So, I am having a contest with myself to see how many classics I can read until the end of the year. This is difficult due to all the other reading I am doing; for research, reviews, learning the craft. But I think that a good knowledge of the classics is a good place to be in my self-learning process. Since I review debut authors, it is important for me to know the masters. Since I am also a debut author, I don’t want to pick up bad habits and I want to be able to recognize them. I don’t in any way wish to appear to be bashing new writers, because that is the point, I am one too! I want to know the right way. I’m curious (or nosy you may say) but I know that you are educated in Literature. What is your favorite classic? πŸ™‚

    • ooh, hands down Les MisΓ©rables and Don Quixote. Those are amazing, amazing stories, and so superbly written!!!

      I also love Victorian lit, especially Jane Austen. I do love Dickens, but I’ve actually never read Tale of Two Cities. I’ve read Hard Times, Great Expectations, Dombey and Son, and now David Copperfield πŸ™‚

      • I have never read Les Miserables, but I have downloaded it. If I’ve read Don Quixote, it’s been so long ago that I don’t remember. I do recommend A Tale of Two Cities. It is the ultimate test of friendship.

  7. Reblogged this on Julian Froment's Blog and commented:
    As always I applaud anything that suggests reading more.

  8. Pingback: Creative Writing Tip: Read Outside Your Genre | Darswords

  9. Reading within one genre has never been easy for me. I am an adventuresome spirit and I get bored too easily. In some ways there is a negative effect on my writing in that it never “fits” any particular genre very well. In other ways it has a positive a effect in that I create my own style that is still complimented by a variety of writing approaches.

    • My first novel is a weird combination of genres that is nothing in particular. That’s one reason I decided I couldn’t publish it, but more so the plot was just too predictable and one-sided. Also, melodramatic. πŸ™‚ I think genre-benders are trailblazers. I love what you say here about your own style. That’s awesome!

  10. I frequently read classic literature, always have but I write fantasy fiction. I find the classics distract me but here recently, I’ve been picking up romance novels to sidetrack myself. I find the writing is easy to read, not difficult subject matter and effectively takes my mind off my writing when I feel I’m in over my head. It’s just a way to lighten up.

  11. I have only just begun writing outside my genre. It is scary, exciting, frustrating and amazing. Thank you for this excellent post.

    • glad you enjoyed it! WOW…. i’ve never tried writing outside my genre, so kudos! reading is one thing, but writing: i’m sure you’ll gain all kinds of insight and fabulous experience, whether or not you do anything with what you write. (hopefully you’ll be able to, of course. but even if not…. that’ a fantastic experiment. best of luck with it!)

  12. I totally agree with you. I write upper middle grade fantasy. I read a lot of YA fantasy books, because I thought my series was YA. But lately, I’ve switched to contemporary MG books and even lower MG books and picture books at the recommendation of friends. And having discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction, well, I can’t get enough of his books!! So reading those have been helpful.

    • MG is SO much fun. I mean, that’s the genre that gets us hooked on reading for life, as kids πŸ™‚ I could read more nonfiction myself. What I do read is always faith and theologically focused.

  13. Great advice and good post judging from the comments. I love to read outside of my genre and often do. I’m actually much more picky w/ memoir and prefer to read everything else. But I understand, we get this ‘brand’ loyalty and want to stay on the couch but there is so much out there! There is much more in common than naught between genres, I think. I mean, I enjoy finding the connections.

    • That’s such an insightful observation: finding the connection. building connections, even. That’s what reading a number of genres is all about, and why it helps our writing. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Lani!

  14. Pingback: 7 Different Types of Readers: Which Do You Write For? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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