1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Do you have to be a fantasy reader to be a fantasy writer?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by solas, Feb 23, 2014.

  1. solas

    solas Scribe

    Another member drop-kicked this new question into my head. The member did not ask the question but did ask me what books I have read. I have not read a lot of fantasy books lately and wonder if you have to be a fantasy reader to be a fantasy writer? I do read quite a bit but mostly memoirs and other non fiction. This is not say I have never read fantasy...I have been an avid reader since I could read but although I believe I have a good story, I having those nasty little doubts again!
  2. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    Well, there's no rule that says you do, but I would encourage it as it could help you with developing a fantasy story and seeing what other fantasy writers have done in their stories, and you'd be able to get a sense of their voice and writing style. It may also give you some inspiration.
    solas likes this.
  3. Roan Davidson

    Roan Davidson Scribe

    I think you should always read stuff in your genre--just for starters, if you don't love the genre, if you don't find yourself wanting to read it, there's no reason to write in it. Besides, you'll want an idea of what's out there, so you'll know how other authors handle things like fantasy-specific tropes, world building and magic systems.

    Reading outside your genre is important too--all sorts of books can be fodder for your imagination. But I try to put the fantasy stuff at the top of my list.
  4. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Not a question of "having" to, but chances are you'll write better fantasy if you have read a lot of it as well. It's also rather common to enjoy partaking in the same kind of art you enjoy creating.

    There are exceptions. I'm pretty sure Micheal Sullivan has mentioned that, when he started writing his books, he hadn't/wasn't reading much fantasy.
    solas likes this.
  5. solas

    solas Scribe

    Thanks Telcontar. I wrote my first draft and let it sit for a while. As much as I hate saying this, I got a lot of inspiration from watching television. (I go through phases. Read, read, watch TV. Read, read, watch TV...) All the shows I watch are sci fi, fantasy or horror. I picked up my first draft and read it over, realizing it was rubbish and tore the story apart. Expanded the story and added new characters but I have read several excerpts of highly rated fantasy novels and like all books of a particular genre, they all have different styles of writing.
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I'm a little surprised - usually when this question gets asked, the answer is a resounding "yes" and I'm a lone naysayer.

    I don't like to say "yes," not because I think you can go without reading fantasy, but because I think you should be more careful about what you read, how you read, when you read, and why you read. I think it can be an advantage to begin developing your story concept and your creativity skills before absorbing too many existing influences.

    The key to being creative is figuring out what you would think of that nobody else ever would. Once you're at that point, you should read as many good books as you can so you can incorporate better writing and storytelling techniques into your concept. But you need to find at least a seed of your creativity first, and you do that by shaking everything else off and pushing at your own ideas until they start to click with you.
    Jackarandajam and Jabrosky like this.
  7. teacup

    teacup Auror

    Unless you watch shows with really bad writing, I don't see anything wrong with this :p It may not help with the prose, but storytelling wise, tv/movies can be helpful, just as books are.

    But no, you don't have to read fantasy to write it. I'm sure it would certainly help, as would reading outside of the genre would, but of course you don't have to.
    solas likes this.
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    You don't have to, but it certainly helps. I mean, most people say the stories they write are the ones they would want to read. Reading in the genre you write can help shape your ideas and can help you avoid some possibly embarrassing moments.

    The novel that I'm outlining right now, I started scribbling ideas for it years ago, long before I heard or read Game of Thrones. In my novel I have a great wall that surrounds all the known lands. On the other side of that wall are creatures that I called The Others. Sound a little familiar?

    I swore up a storm when I read Game of Thrones and found those elements in it, but I'm happy I found them. Imagine if I sent out my novel without knowing about these things. It makes me look like I'm trying to ride on the coattails of Game of Thrones when I'm not.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  9. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I would recommend you simply read the kind of books you want to write.

    I have come to question whether our current construct of genre is all that helpful when it comes to selecting reading material or designing stories. The problem is that genres often come loaded with connotative baggage that can constrain the range of storytelling. We stereotypically associate fantasy with magical quests in medieval Europe, mystery with forensic detectives solving murders and robberies in modern times, science fiction with spaceship battles in the distant future, and so forth. This isn't such a problem if you're content with contributing to established traditions, but I submit that there's something to be said for mixing and matching elements from different genres. Why not have your medieval story be a murder mystery, your spaceship story a romance, or even an epic quest in modern times?

    You could interpret what I'm saying as advice that you should read outside your genre as well as within it. However, I would frame it as saying read whatever interests you regardless of the genre it's sorted into. For instance, if you like stories about dinosaurs (as I do), read stories about dinosaurs regardless of whether they're sci-fi, fantasy, or even Harlequin romances. Such would expose you to more different ways to portray the same subject matter.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  10. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading dinosaur romances.

    On-topic, I've seen some spec-fic authors who refuse to admit they write spec-fic. (Case in point, Margaret Atwood, who once said she doesn't write sci-fi because sci-fi is about squid in outer space. Or Terry Goodkind, who said that if you think his stories are like Robert Jordan's, you're not old enough to be reading his stories.) They can find financial and even critical success by marketing to readers who refuse to read spec-fic, but they tend to retread ground spec-fic writers have repeatedly covered, and without the knowledge to work off of and expand on those earlier stories, their works tend to turn out inferior.
    solas likes this.
  11. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

    I haven't read a lot of fantasy fiction either, and i don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. Inspiration for my novel comes from Fight Club, the movie Smokin' Aces, a bit of Sin City... And it is most definitely an Epic Fantasy novel, with dragons, swords, magic and so on. i find it more interesting to be inspired from outside my genre, and i think the originality is much cleaner that way.

    I found out at a young age that i loved fantasy because of Tolkien, and have read his books many times.
    I actually find myself frustrated that it is so evident in my writing that I'm influenced by Tolkien, and i've tried to shake as much of that as possible, though the credit for my love of the genre will always go to him.

    R. A. Salvadore has a row of books that makes my mouth water every time i pass them in the bookstore, and I've heard wonderful things about him, but i refuse to crack open the first book just yet. My world is still so young and fresh and evolutionary in my mind, i don't want to corrupt its originality with other (albeit awesome and well constructed) ideas. I've read lots of fiction, but very little fantasy fiction, and will not until my I've explored my world so thoroughly that ill be able to take an idea in my hands and turn it over, before carefully placing wherever i see fit. I don't want images and "easy answers" to take the place of my originality.

    None of this is to fault anyone who devours FF, I'm sure there are plenty who have no trouble sorting an original idea from ones read elsewhere. My world is mine though, and i want to present it as just that.
    solas likes this.
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    In my opinion, reading in general is crucial if you're a writer. It's no different from successful musicians. They're constantly listening to music.

    Should you read fantasy if you want to write fantasy? Yes. You should have a firm understanding of whatever genres you choose to write.

    Should you read outside the genre? Also a yes. This step helps with thinking about your chosen genres in new ways.

    EDIT: Devor, I just realized I read your post entirely wrong. We are in opposition so I had to edit.

    I've heard people say they don't like to read fiction because they are afraid it will influence their ideas. That's the whole point. You read a lot. You take this mishmash of story telling and produce something fresh, something of your own. To think anyone will come up with something original, something that hasn't been done by the people writing within the genre for the last 70 years just because they avoid influences, well I just don't get that thinking.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2014
    Roan Davidson likes this.
  13. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Never mind "can":

    If you weren't a fantasy reader, why would you WANT to be a fantasy writer?
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I may be attributing this to the wrong person, but I think Ray Bradbury said the way he got ideas was by constantly reading and watching movies. That obviously doesn't mean he stole the ideas, but it obviously woke something up inside of him. I used to think I didn't want my fiction "corrupted" by other ideas, but if anything reading lots of fiction has molded the style I truly always wanted. If I go back and read a lot of my earlier fiction, it's unnecessarily verbose because I thought that was the way writers were supposed to write. However, after reading all manner of fiction, I've come to my own conclusions to what I like and what I don't like as a writer. I believe personal style evolves from soaking in a wide variety of influences: fiction, news, personal experience, games, moves, whatever.

    I do think it's possible for fantasy writers to be inspired by other forms of fiction obviously. It's actually good to do so. But one of the reasons I love writing fantasy is because I love reading fantasy. The two things just go hand in hand for me, but as per always everyone has their own personal way of developing their style.
  15. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I'm on the fence, since obviously there are many fantasy writers who did well enough who weren't active readers in the genre. The short answer is 'yes', you can write it and do it well. You said you've read it in the past, so you know the basis of the genre well enough, and the skills of actually writing come more from reading and practice than any specific genre.

    The long answer is that you can, but it's not like it ends up in a cross-genre masterpiece every time. I hate to whip out the literary equivalent of Godwin's law, but I'm going to bring up Stephenie Meyer. Not Twilight, but The Host. Meyer wrote a science fiction novel knowing little about the genre beyond a few common place films (Star Wars and whatnot). And ho boy, was it riddled with clichés. But not in the way a bad science fiction novel tends to be. There's things like Eragon, which are bad and cliché out of love of the genre. Paolini was a young writer who adored fantasy and ripped the whole lot of it off. Meyer was more naively stumbling her way through the same thought processes that every science fiction author in the world has gone through, but due to her lack of knowledge of the genre, she thought herself clever for doing so.

    Obviously you do know a bit about the genre as a whole, but trends can emerge in the span of a few years and things that were once loved can become tired quickly. There's value in watching the market, at least, if you're writing genre fiction of any sort.
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I think maybe you're still missing something about what I was trying to get across. I didn't say you need to be "original" - whatever that means. I was talking about the importance of shaking off outside influences and finding your own creative core. If you read Game of Thrones before you do that, you risk letting GRRM shape your creative core. If you read GoT after you've found that creative core, then you are in control of how GRRM is shaping you.
    Jackarandajam likes this.
  17. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I don't think you need to form a creative core free of outside influences. In fact I'd argue that the formation of a creative core requires outside influences. You can moderate initial heavy influences later with more reading from different authors, genres, styles and so on, but without reading (or watching TV or movies etc), how can you form a creative core in the first place? And then it is inevitable that the major early influences will have a large impact on your writing. But it then takes maturity, more reading, more writing, and some self-analysis in order to take that influence-heavy core and turn it into a personal voice.

    I'm not sure it's possible to "shake off outside influences" - they are there whether you want them to be or not. You can moderate them with a wider range of influences as a result of wider reading and wider experiences, but you can't shake them off entirely.

    I'm also not sure about this idea of there being a single point before which you haven't found your creative core and after which you have. I see it more of a process - gradual, always advancing, never quite there. All new influences form part of the shaping of that core, with varying degrees if impact, but there's no point at which you can say "that's it, I'm done, this is my voice, now and forever more, eternal and unchanging from this point forth."
    Ghost, T.Allen.Smith and Feo Takahari like this.
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    First, I want to make it clear what I'm talking about. Just like I haven't said anything about originality, I also haven't said anything about voice.

    Being original is about being new. Having a voice is about writing with fluency. Being creative is about being yourself, about finding the answer to one question:

    What do I want to do that nobody else would think of?

    Reading confuses the answer to that question by filling your head with everybody else's thoughts. Reading is about exploring outwards instead of inwards. It's necessary for quality, but it's a red herring in forming the groundwork of who you are as a writer.

    If you want to learn to be creative, the only thing you can do is to create. Reading is not creation. It's not the same skill at all.

    You're taking my comments a little too far if you think I'm talking about some magic moment where everything clicks and that's just it forever. I'm only arguing that reading a lot is far less important, and far less beneficial, in the early stages of your development as an author than is commonly believed.
    Jackarandajam and JRFLynn like this.
  19. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I understand what you're saying, but I couldn't disagree more. How would you know you're not thinking about what others have done unless you read what they've written?

    I know everyone works differently & our minds may be wired in unique ways. For me, reading doesn't confuse the issue by filling my head with the ideas of others. Reading sparks creativity. Reading engages my mind with description, character, & story. Reading gives me a cast of thousands and pictures from a plethora of foreign worlds. I can combine them, dilute them, and dissect them as I please into something fresh, something unique to me. If some aspect of a story winds up too similar to something I've read, it can be cut or further altered.

    In my view, reading is essential to unique creativity. Without reading I'd be stumbling blind through the genre, unable to see the tired storylines which I think are fabulous. I say stuff yourself full of as many good stories, characters, & settings as you can. You'll be surprised what your mind can produce from all of that input.

    As I said before, I'm willing to concede that people's minds all don't operate like mine. However, I firmly believe that if you don't read a lot...and I mean a lot...you're dooming your chances of ever becoming a good writer. Art, like any creative or intellectual pursuit, is borne upon the shoulders of those who came before us.

    I can't think of a single successful author who hasn't said reading a lot is key.
    Ronald T., A. E. Lowan and Chilari like this.
  20. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    @Devor: I'm not sure I agree with the statement that there exist such a thing as "everyone else's ideas." Ideas don't belong to people any more than wind belongs to people. (The artist in this metaphor makes wind chimes, or possibly whirligigs--the ideas in the air pass through them, but each creation is still different.)

Share This Page