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The Reasons for Reading Outside Your Genre

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm finding myself more and more attracted to non-fantasy writing. Don't get me wrong, fantasy is and always will be my number one love, but I'm just currently more interested in work outside the genre. I often hear the advice that reading outside your genre is a good thing. I guess I never really considered that until I delved more into this recently.

    Here are some reasons I think it's a pretty good idea to not only read fantasy work to improve your writing:

    1. It gives you new and unique perspectives you may not be getting from fantasy. If the majority of what you read is epic fantasy, reading a mystery or horror book might help give you some new insight into characters' minds.

    2. It doesn't box you into the "fantasy writer" mold. Meaning you may not fall into the traps of producing the same kind of work over and over if you can draw inspiration from other sources.

    3. Other genres may focus on certain elements more that you hadn't considered. For example, SF focuses on what could be, romance on love, and horror on the things that scare us.

    Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from outside the genre on occasion? What reasons would you give for reading other types of books to help your writing?
     
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  2. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I read sci-fi quite a bit. I also enjoy the occasional mystery (I am really picky about my mysteries). For non-fiction I enjoy history or science books.

    Why do I need a reason to read these? I read what I enjoy, and I enjoy more than just one genre.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you don't read outside your genre, I think you're missing out on the complete toolbox that is available to writers. Want to see how to write fast-paced page turners? Read Michael Connelly or Robert Crais. Want to add romantic elements? Read some good romance authors. Want to create a sense of foreboding or dread? Read horror.

    If you're only reading fantasy, you have a too-narrow view of the possibilities.
     
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  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Objectively this is really good advice and it makes complete sense. I haven't had (taken) the time to read anything really in quite some time. I've got a handful of fantasy novels I've been meaning to read on the ol' Kindle, but they're collecting dust in favor of other endeavors at the moment.
    Some day though, I'll get my other chores done and I'll get on something new and interesting. :)
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I agree with Steerpike. If you want to learn how to do something, analytically read an author who does it well.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    :dance::biggrin::grouphug::bounce:


    But yes, I think it makes sense, and I'll even read in a genre I don't care for as a rule (i.e. romance) just to see how authors are handling situations there.
     
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  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Something I'd like to ask:

    Is there something you personally learned as a writer from reading other books other than fantasy?

    I'm just interested to hear other opinions on this topic since the last three books I've read in full were a western, a SF book, and I'm currently reading Neuromancer by William Gibson. I find Gibson's dialogue really engaging and the ways he describes things are really amazing. Even though half the time I have no clue what he's talking about, it really resonates with me for some reason. I feel like I'm actually be educated and entertained at the same time. It's kind of weird and cool for me.

    I do find myself wanting to emulate what I read more in hard-boiled stories and SF than what I have in fantasy. Mostly in the dialogue realm. I just enjoy snappy dialogue a lot. I find this attribute can be hard to find in fantasy on occasion.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Definitely. I've mentioned Michael Connelly and Robert Crais numerous times. You want to learn pacing, tension, and getting the reader to want to read just one more page, you'll have a hard time finding a better place to start.
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Can you recommend a book of theirs to start with? I don't know if it's just fantasy overload for me sometimes, but yeah, there are times when I just want to read a page-turner and see what they're doing right that makes it fast paced without seeming so hectic.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    This is a good one by Crais - also part of a series that started with his Elvis Cole books, and now has some books featuring another character from those - Joe Pike:

    Robert Crais: The First Rule
     
  12. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    Recent reads outside of fantasy/sci-fi:

    Incognito by David Eagleman

    Neuroscientist explores how we are not really in control of ourselves. Explores how our "sub conscious" mind makes decisions long before we become aware of them, and the illusions we have of free will and of the world around us. It seems someone is driving the car and it's not our conscious selves.

    Interesting stuff, but from a writing perspective, it made me think about the incorrect assumptions characters can easily jump to based on their biases and past experience, and how I could use that in fiction.

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    I love this book. What he does with words, the creative shifts in POV, delicious and hopeful and despairing words. Reminded me that painting with words is what I like best, and how it can be done well.

    The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    I'd been "meaning to" read this for about 25 years, finally started chugging through. It's a very heady book (and heavy!), complicated, but it opened my mind to writing sympathetic characters you wouldn't like to be friends with. Mr Karamazov is vile, yet I found I was drawn into his charm, sympathetic to his reprehensible life!

    The Information by James Gleick

    Non-fiction/science. This tells the story of "information" from the earliest language to cuneiform, to writing, printing, the telegraph, computing, etc... right up to today. Sparked many ideas in my mind about how technology moves society and vice versa, how we communicate.

    Chaos by James Gleick

    Just started this one, been meaning to for a long time. One of my current projects employs a magic system that underneath all the mysticism is really operating on principles of order versus entropy. I don't want to explain physics to the reader, but I want a system that does not defy the laws of physics, but rather exploits them.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Thanks!

    Actually, a non-fantasy writer I think I learned a lot from was Elmore Leonard. He was probably one of the first writers who I read for enjoyment that wasn't fantasy. I remember reading his book Pagan Babies in several days. Even now, that's probably the fastest I ever read a book. One reason I think he engaged me so much, was the dialogue heavy writing that breezed past and the descriptions were always spot on. He's a great one to study if anyone is interested in keeping writing sparse but still hitting all the right notes.

    I actually learned more about the genocide in Rwanda from this book as well, something I knew little to nothing about. So not only did the book entertain me, but made me aware about a topic I may not have known much about otherwise.
     
  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    One of my favorite authors of all time is Tove Jansson. Her way of describing things in a whimsical, friendly, almost poetic way that says a lot more than just the words used and which resonates very well with me.

    You can find some quotes and excerpts from her books here: Tove Jansson Quotes (Author of Finn Family Moomintroll)

    Example:
    She does this kind of thing all the time in her books and it's something I would want to be able to do as well.

    More - because I still can. :)
    ...and finally, this one, which should speak a little to all of us. :p
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
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  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    My favorite novel ever. You should also read Nabokov's Lolita​, which is a brilliant book.
     
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  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I read a blog post that noted how good Nicholas Sparks was at getting his readers to cry, so I decided to check his writing out. My wife had one of his on our Nook. I got a few ideas from it, but, overall, I wasn't all that impressed.

    I've heard, however, that his earlier stuff is much better. I just haven't worked up the desire to read another one.

    I'd love to be able to make my readers cry (on purpose rather than just because my writing is so bad, anyway).
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Just goes to show how different tastes are. Granted, I read this as a junior in high school, but I loathed this book. As in, worst possible book ever. It just went on and on and on.

    Not sure if my reaction would be different today or not. I have such bad memories of it that I have no desire to find out.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I need to try reading Grapes of Wrath again as well. I really loved Of Mice and Men. It's actually one of my favorite books ever and is a quick read to boot. I always think writers should try to consume some of the classics when they find the time. They're classics for a reason. However, I get that some tastes differ.
     
  19. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I do read some detective - Agatha Christie and a little humour - Shakespeare - I really do quite like a Midsummer Nights Dream. But there are some genre's I just can't stand. Romance makes me nauseas for example. Others leave me cold like anything to do with real life. And some of that is just dreadful. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, both of which we were forced to read at school, seriously are among the most depressing of books. I'll have to take BWF's comment one step further. After reading them I wanted to gouge my own eyes out and slit my wrists.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I've thumbed through his books in the bookstore, but nothing about the writing compelled me to buy any of them.
     
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