Why Reading ALL Genres is Critical to Your Writing

 In Books, Writing

I’ve heard writers say: “I won’t read books in my genre or even in any genre when I’m writing because I don’t want to be influenced by someone else.”

I’m not here to change your mind, but I would like you to consider the following:

  1. Trust yourself to not plagiarize. Your characters, your setting, your story are unique to you. Remember there are millions of romance novels, some around similar themes (pretend fiance), and people love them.
  2. Study the work of the authors you admire. One critical way we learn is by reading and analyzing. How can you learn about writing without studying the work of others? Why deny yourself that gift of learning? For example, I love the Linwood Barclay’s command of dialogue. It’s brilliant how he moves the story forward, incorporates setting, incorporates emotion, offers plot hints, and distinguishes his characters through dialogue. I admire this and it’s my goal to write dialogue as well as Linwood Barclay.
  3. If you don’t want to read other people’s work because you compare yourself and often find yourself getting depressed because you don’t think you’re good enough, STOP IT! That’s toxic thinking. Instead, admire their work and strive to be better. You’re unique. Embrace that and stop trying to fill someone else’s shoes. Fill your own and do the best work you can do. Learn from others and let it be motivation to improve, not as a weapon to hurt you emotionally. When you do, you’re withholding the very best opportunities for you to learn from outstanding teachers, brilliant authors who, when you pay attention, can transform your writing!

I write mystery, suspense, thrillers, and of course, I gravitate to these novels. I’ve learned a lot about structure, what makes a mystery novel successful by reading, appreciating, and most of all analyzing WHY a novel was so outstanding.

Here are questions to ask yourself.

Why did this novel hold my attention?

What it was that made it unputdownable?

Why did I find myself transported to a different place?

Why did I care so much about a character and what happened to him or her?

Why did I despise a character?

Why did I loved an ending? What made it so good?

What was the structure of the novel?

When did the author reveal secrets?

What was the author’s reason for including certain facts? Actions?

Why did the author have her character behave in a certain way or do something?

Reading other genres:

I read historical fiction and am often captivated by the character development in the context of history and the details that are critical to bring a reader back to that time period. It shows how details and research is important and HOW to incorporate that into your writing. What did you love about those details? How did they blend in seamlessly?

My suspense novel, Sabbatical in the Sun, incorporates historical facts. Without a doubt, reading historical novels made a difference in my writing.

Reading a romance novel can teach you a lot about what you do and do not like about developing relationships between characters, especially an intimate one. In real life, you may believe that insta-love happens, but in a novel, does it seem believable or will it cause readers to roll their eyes?  What elements of romance can you draw upon from the very best in this genre? If you have romance in your thriller, get tips from the best!

Reading suspense/thriller/mystery novels can help a writer with building tension and crisis for her characters. We need tension, we need crisis, and we need some kind of resolution. What can you learn about these important aspects to great writing from these books? Tons!

Books that feature travel can help you pay attention to details, see characters within fascinating environments. Incorporating setting is important. Most people DO NOT want to read lengthy descriptions of setting, so learn from these books on how to blend it in through dialogue and action.

At Risk: Passion and Peril at Sea benefitted from my own travel experience and my love for novels that incorporate exotic locations. In this particular book, the Mexican Riviera is a highlight for readers.

A final note: Writing in third person or first person, past or present tense, is very different. Explore what you like about each and decide what you’re most comfortable writing. Do this by examining the styles of other authors. Look at sentence structure, how inner thoughts are conveyed, how characters interact, what you can and cannot show. (For example, if you’re writing in first person, you won’t be able to show what another character is thinking unless it’s spoken out loud. You also can’t say what another character saw. For example: “I stood with Joey at the end of our driveway. He saw the rabbit hop under the bush and disappear into the yard next door.” THE QUESTION: How do you know he saw it?

So, read, read, read, read, read!!! You will be a much better writer because of it.


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