On Reading in One’s Genre…

Craft of Writing, Reading, Writing

A writer should read within his/her genre, absolutely. The obvious reasons are because you learn what’s been selling in your genre, what others have done, etc. You can consciously study others’ work. However, what is not as obvious is that reading deeply in your genre also allows you to subconsciously learn the mechanisms of that genre. You absorb how to write it. As an example, when I was young, I read voraciously in the horror genre (back, yknow, when there was one :p). I mean I would probably read thirty books in a year, just in horror. Some of it was awful, some of it was amazing. As a writer now, I don’t write horror, per se, but some of my stories do contain horrific elements. Those are the easiest bits to write for me. Those scenes tend to need the least revision and editing. And I firmly believe that it’s because of how deeply I read in that genre.

As an editor, I know right away when an author hasn’t read much in the genre she is trying to write in. Why? Because the settings are stock, the characters tend to be stereotypical and the plot is often predictable. And it’s because they don’t know what went before them. They don’t know the tropes of their genre, therefore that cannot avoid or otherwise set the tropes on their ears. You can’t play with something if you don’t know it exists.

Every genre has its rules, its reader expectations and its tropes and, as writers, we have to be educated in those items. In the same way that one cannot *effectively* break the rules of grammar unless one is very familiar with those rules, the effectiveness of writing within a genre is going to be tied directly to knowledge of that genre.

Do you read in your genre? Classics? Current stories? Why or why not?

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  • Reply
    Danielle Hinesly
    March 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Great site. Thanks for the helpful reminders.

  • Reply
    March 16, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I try and read all the Stoker nominees each year…that gives me a good idea of what’s hot in my genre (horror). I only have Peter Straub’s left to go for this year:) (My prediction: Rot & Ruin will win.)

    I also try and pry myself OUT of my genre once in a while. It’s like sniffing coffee beans amid a lot of perfumes, kind of recalibrates your tastes, lets you dig in again with a fresh eye.

  • Reply
    Mary Marvella
    November 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I am an equal opportunity reader. If a critique partner is writing in a genre, I try to read books in that genre, even if it isn’t one of my favorites.

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