Art is a subjective thing. No single piece is loved by absolutely everyone. Yes, there are people who don’t love—who don’t even like Harry Potter. Writing is extremely subjective—it’s almost impossible to offer an objective standard by which to critique or rate worldbuilding or character or plot or writing style. The only thing that (to me) seems even close is whether the writer was able to communicate something, and even that is limited.
So why is this all relevant, particularly to the post title?
Because I believe that, although it is totally subjective, we writers should still attempt to improve our writing, and I think the best and easiest way to do that is to read. I’ve used this quote before, but I really do think it’s important to remember:
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Thank you, Mr. King.
Writers, read everything you can get your hands on. Read novels and textbooks and newspaper columns and magazine articles and the thing on your cereal box that makes up the story behind how we discovered the miracle fruit that makes the cereal so sweet. Read everything.
But, in particular, read your genre.
I don’t mean this in the sense that a YA writer should read all YA ever. I mean that someone who writes about ensembles of girls fighting monsters with magic might want to read about them. If you’re writing about wizard detectives, read about wizard detectives. If you’re making up a castle in the sky, read about castles (and other living spaces) in the sky.
There are benefits to it.
1. Inspiration, or the “What if” Phenomenon
Reading what is in your genre can be so great in inspiring you. Whether you like what you see or don’t, there’s the very real possibility that it will make you think about how to handle your plot or characters or worldbuilding. Maybe you wonder what a different character would do in that situation, or how things would move forward if a different decision had been made. Maybe you think the author didn’t handle x well, and you can do it better? Well, you won’t know until you try; you might not have realized you could without reading.
2. Awareness of Patterns
Tropes are awesome. I’m not talking about cliches—they are different things, and the link explains the difference very succinctly (but beware of the rabbit hole of the site). Different genres use tropes in different ways. Some genres ignore some tropes altogether. Reading your genre will make you aware of what tropes are accepted and common and expected, and which ones occur more rarely or never (especially if you’re aware of what tropes exist in general). This can go back to the inspiration idea—maybe the older gray-bearded wizarding mentor is extraordinarily common (hello, high fantasy), and you want to turn that trope on its head a little bit?
Either way, reading your genre lets you identify patterns in the writing. It can help you tailor your writing to your audience—give them familiar character tropes with surprising plot twists, for example.
3. What Doesn’t Work
But reading in your genre can also make you aware of what won’t work. These might be tropes you simply do not see (an elderly wizarding mentor won’t necessarily have a place in a contemporary work set in a high school) or the way the author handles something.
The key is that not everything you read in your genre will be good, which is fantastic for you. You can see how someone handles something poorly, and you can either avoid that something in your writing—or you can do it in a way you think is right.
In a sense, it all comes back to the inspiration and (don’t hate me for using the word) education of reading in your genre.
I, for one, was inspired to write this post because I’m taking steps to start a new project (details to come). One of the first things I want to do is read in the genre, because I’m not as familiar with it as I am with others. Below I have the books I’m already planning on reading, but do tell me… do you know any good superhero (or people with superpowers) novels? I’d prefer to stay away from graphic novels and comics (sorry, Marvel and DC), but I would love some recommendations.
What “genre” do you write in?
What do you think of the idea that reading = better writing?
Have you read any of the aforementioned novels?
If so, what should I read first?
Do you have any recommendations for me?