To be a great writer you need to read outside your genre

We all know that if you want to be a good writer, you need to be a voracious reader. Stephen King famously said “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I don’t think I could put it any better than that. But does it matter what you read? I think so.

If you want to write epic fantasy, should you only read epic fantasy? SF? Mystery? We all have read genre books that read like little kid brothers of something that we really love. They look like the original, sound like it, but way more annoying. I think this is what happens when you don’t branch out with your reading, you become derivative, and not in a good way.

If you want to write the thing that stands out in your genre, read other genres. If the complaint is that your plot is great but your characters are wooden and the relationships in your book are unbelievable, go read a good romantic mystery. Read a character driven book that is more Lit Fic. Find authors that know how to tug at your heart strings and find out what makes their characters real. Your plot weak? Read Grisham and figure out how he takes a mystery and unravels it bit by bit to keep the pages turning. Mystery and romance authors could stand to read some epic fantasy or space opera to understand that sometimes characters need to aspire to something bigger than themselves and that the hero’s journey is for all of us.

Patrick Rothfuss has said that after reading every fantasy story he could get his hands on, he couldn’t come up with a way to tell a different kind of story. Then he read Cyrano de Bergerac and The King Killer Chronicles were born. You never know where that spark of inspiration will come from, or that new idea of how to do things that have never been done before.

You get the point. Don’t be afraid to get outside of your genre to get fresh ideas and to learn from other authors. That’s one reason that I try to have a diverse roster of authors on Author Stories, because I know we can learn from each other, and it makes us all better at what we do.

So go ahead and read that romance, cozy mystery, space pew pew, or wizards and elves book. I won’t tell anybody.

2 thoughts on “To be a great writer you need to read outside your genre

  1. The story goes that Joss Whedon took a break and read some Westerns. He wanted to do a science fiction series at the time. So he went, “What if there was a Wild Western series in space?” And Firefly was born. So yeah, reading widely is very important.

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