To be a good writer requires a lot of reading. Not just in your chosen genre of writing, but widely, across other genres.
What can other genres teach us?
- Thrillers/Crime – tension, pacing, mystery, plot twists, morally grey characters.
- Romance – self-explanatory, but relationship dynamics, love triangles, sexual tension, attraction, heartbreak.
- Horror – as with Thrillers/Crime, but with added supernatural elements, murder mystery, serial killers.
- Fantasy/Sci-FI – all of the above with added magic, monsters, technological advances, space travel, secondary worlds.
My genre of choice to read and write is fantasy. The worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth shaped my love of all things other worldly when I was very young, and I’ve always been drawn to stories of places and people that only exist in the imagination.
However, the importance of reading other genres is so important and a trawl through my bookshelves reveals titles such as Lord of the Flies, The Hate U Give, Hard Times and the Divine Comedy nestling amongst Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, and Sarah J Maas titles; to name a few.
Which leads me to the point of this post: Reading as a writer.
This is just as important as reading different genres widely. As a writer, you will learn about characterisation, structure, tone, pace, plot, sub-plots, voice, and point of view. You will also spot things you don’t like, which teaches you about your own writing style and what you are likely to avoid.
For instance, my biggest bugbear is repetition of a phrase. I’ve noticed this in a few books I’ve read, and it comes across to me as if the author thought, “that’s a great phrase!” and they keep on using it. By that time, it’s jumping off the page at me like a flea! When it came to editing my own book, I found I had done exactly the same thing with variations on, looked to be, seemed to be, and appeared to be. I was so annoyed with myself, but at least I was able to find those phrases, rewrite them, and trim the novel down. It’s lazy writing, but I appreciate that during the drafting stages, repetition doesn’t matter as editing provides the chance to weed out superfluous words and phrases.
Another benefit from reading as a writer is coming across words I’m not familiar with. I always quickly jot them down in my notebook, check their meaning, and try them in my own work to see if they fit. Broadening vocabulary as well as my reading material is another way of learning from other works and improving my writing skills.
One obvious disadvantage is not switching off from writer mode, which can detract from the enjoyment of reading. It’s so easy to be in the middle of reading something, and thinking, “I wouldn’t have written it like that,” so it’s important to try and separate the two. Reading for pleasure should not be relegated to second place.