5 Reasons for Reading Outside of Your Genre

May 24, 2010 at 6:41 am (Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )


It is advice that you hear all the time.  Writers should read widely.  They should read outside of their preferred genre.  Some people even go so far as to give you a specific list of books you must read (I always worry when someone tells me I must read something – it usually leads to me spending many weeks turning one page at a time and finding multiple other things to do).

I do however think it is good advice to read anything and everything you have the time to read – even things you know you are going to hate before you begin them. Here are my 5 reasons why:

1.  It is less likely you will end up emulating one particular author or group or authors if you have read widely. Having seen language used so many different ways it is unlikely you will latch onto any one person’s style and so you have more chance to find your own voice.

2.  Very few books fall into only one genre. Most have elements of many genres mixed together. Fantasy for instance usually has adventure, mystery, coming of age, romance, drama, horror and a range of other genres interlaced.  It helps to have read a wide range of genres so that you can develop these ideas within your own genre.

3.  Sometimes you discover something amazing. As I said, I usually worry when someone gives me a book and tells me I have to read it. I tend to have images of high school going through my brain and trying to read the class novel and not fall asleep and then remember enough of the story to write about it afterward. But sometimes, you discover a real gem. Something that just works for you.

4.  Even reading something you don’t like can improve your writing. If you critically analyse what it is you don’t like about what you are reading it will make you more critical of your own writing and how the reader will receive it.

5.  Particularly if you are write what you know kind of author, more experiences are better. Reading outside your genre, you never know what you might learn.

What do you think? Do you read outside your genre or do you stick with what you know?

Also, what is the worst book you’ve ever had to read because someone has requested you read it?

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35 Comments

  1. dirtywhitecandy said,

    Good post. We need to make sure we don’t get in a rut. Worst book I ever had to read? The Da Vinci Code. My writer husband nagged me to read it, for the good of my writing education.
    I honestly wanted to enjoy the ride and gain insights into its success but it looked like a first draft with all the laborious explanations, sludgy pacing, revelations signposted a mile off and so on, clumsy and thin characterisation. Unreadable. I tossed it away while the characters were still locked in the lavatory.
    Writer husband tut-tutted, so I told him he should read it. When he did he understood.
    (So that’s one worst book for two people!)

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I didn’t finish it either. I learned some valuable lessons and then ended my misery and gifted the book to someone else who also didn’t finish reading it.

  2. David Cranmer said,

    All good points. (Interesting, I didn’t finish The Da Vinci Code either)

    I fiind I read a lot of crime fiction and watch 40s noir films before I begin writing a western.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Maybe we need a survey of all the people who began it but never finished it? Thanks for the comment.

  3. drtombibey said,

    My gig is physician bluegrass fiction. Everything I read is outside my genre.

    Dr. B

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Do I ask what physician bluegrass fiction is or do I try searching on google for it?

  4. Lua said,

    Great post Cassandra! I agree with you %100- writers should read widely, it will help us not to get into a vicious circle with our own writing and especially the things we don’t like can be really helpful when it comes to learning about what not to do and what to avoid.

  5. AlexJ said,

    Those are great tips. And science fiction is usually a blend of genres. While I don’t intend to ever read chicklit, I do read a variety.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I have to admit, I tend to draw the line at Westerns. I just can’t get into them.

  6. Mason Canyon said,

    I so agree with #2. It’s hard to place a book in one genre, because most do fall into several. For that reason, I think it great to read a variety of genres. Very helpful tips.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

  7. Janel said,

    I completely agree with you. I write short stories and often use very tight sentences. Reading novels, especially rambling ones, often sets my muse free a little bit. Suddenly, more description will start coming back in my own writing.

  8. Jemi Fraser said,

    Great tips – I read a pretty wide variety of genres. My writing also tends to cross genres – it’s so hard to keep mystery & a touch of romance out of everything I write – so I don’t try :)

    I can’t get through some of the ‘classics’ – too dry, too much flowery language for the sake of flowery language.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Some of the classics make you wonder just why they are classic but for the most part there is something to be learned from them. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Joanie said,

    This is amazing advice. I’m glad I read outside of my preferred genre when I was younger because now I appreciate all types of books. I can usually find something I like about a book, even if it wasn’t something I thought was amazing. I hated Stephen King with a passion when I was younger, and I remember having to read “On-Writing” in a college class and then realizing I really liked his work, which led me to read other authors in the Horror genre that I would surely have missed out on.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It is amazing how are tastes do change over time. When I was in school I couldn’t stand period dramas because I found them very dry, but now I find them quite fascinating.

  10. Talli Roland said,

    Good points!

    I like to read in my genre when I’m writing, but on breaks I do tend to mix it up quite a bit. I think ti’s important for writers to know what’s out there and see what other writers are doing.

  11. Katelyn said,

    I’ve always read just about anything I can get my hands on! Most recently, I’ve hopped from fluffy “chick-lit” to paranormal YA to urban fantasy. I definitely agree that even books you dislike can be valuable reading experiences. Those outside your genre are certainly also worthwhile, as well! Why limit yourself?

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Why limit yourself indeed? You never know what you might enjoy.

  12. Carol Kilgore said,

    I agree it’s good to read outside your genre. The most recent book I’ve read outside my favorite romantic suspense genre is one by Dean Koontz. I enjoyed it and learned a lot about construction. For me, I think because I was less interested in story, I focused more on technique.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I find I focus on technique when I dislike something. Yet that way it becomes a valuable learning experience. I’m not a huge fan of Dean Koontz but I’ve enjoyed a few of his stories. I know a few die-hard fans who have read every one of his books and I don’t quite know how they managed.

  13. Margot Kinberg said,

    Cassandra – You make a very good case for exploring writing outside of one’s usual genre. I think it really can bring a freshness to one’s writing. You’ve also got a very compelling point that many books don’t fall squarely into only one genre, anyway.

  14. Lynn Rush said,

    Right on! Nicely said here.

  15. Jane Kennedy Sutton said,

    Fortunately my daughter, sister, and husband are avid readers. They all pick out different types of books – ones wouldn’t normally gravitate to. Because they pass along their favorites, I have read many excellent books that I would have missed otherwise. Also I’ve read books/manuscripts from authors I’ve met through the writing groups I belong to – both physical groups and online. I’ve discovered the genre doesn’t matter as long as the story is good and well-written.

    And you’re right – I also learn from reading poorly written books.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      A good point – a well written book will appeal regardless of genre.

  16. vic | flyer printing said,

    I think reading outside your genre is definitely helpful to a writer. I agree that cross reading genre will broaden your imagination and probably give you inspiration that you can inject if your are currently writing a particular story.

  17. Karen lee Thompson said,

    What a great post. I agree that we often discover something amazing by reading widely and it is definitely true that, if you read a variety of styles from different authors, you avoid the trap of emulating.
    As far as difficult books, I am ashamed to admit that it is ‘Hollywood’ by Gore Vidal. I know that he is such a highly respected author and, yet, despite trying twice, I just can’t get my teeth into it.

  18. Augusta Scattergood said,

    Terrific advice. My problem with reading something I don’t like, in order to analyze it, is that I get totally bogged down line-editing in my head and can’t even begin to appreciate the story! (ex: DaVinci Code…)

  19. Ann Elise said,

    Good points indeed. Up until recently I only read fantasy. Even now a book outside that genre has to sound really good in order for me to read it. I think the worst book I’ve ever had to read has to be perhaps a tie between ‘Lockie Leonard’ by Tim Winton, ‘Guitar Highway Rose’ by what’s-her-name-who-I-can’t-be-bothered-researching, and ‘The Dressmaker’ by Rosalie Ham. I had to read all of them for school.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      School books tend to haunt us. I’m still crushed by Space Demons – my teacher said I’d like it because it was sci-fi. The only good point was it was so short I could finish it in a single afternoon.

  20. Tooty Nolan said,

    My son recently cajoled me into reading a Zombie book. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it.. Now if I could only think of a good story…

  21. Favorite Tweets For Writers This Week (May 24 to May 30, 2010) « It's All About Writing said,

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  22. Casey Lybrand said,

    Great topic! I’m trying to read more outside my genre (SFF). Right now I’m focused on learning about POV, so I’ve just read Bright Lights, Big City (2nd person, present tense). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the POV receding from my awareness. Now I’m reflecting on what about that POV choice made it work as well as it did, and what I can learn from that.

    I’m also reading YA, for the first time ever! (Although, mostly SFF for that. No zombies so far, though.)

  23. Harvee (Book Bird Dog) said,

    I can’t bring myself to read vampire novels. I don’t see the appeal. I’d rather read regular chick lit instead!

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