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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Writing High Fantasy

January 16, 2010 at 5:12 am (fantasy, Genre, Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Recently, Fiona Skye asked me if I had any advice about world creation for high fantasy and I realised I’ve only ever written one post about creating worlds and I’ve never written anything on the blog about high fantasy.  So, one step at a time, I am going to look at what high fantasy is and sometime next week I’m going to look more specifically at world building.

What is High Fantasy?

High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“Secondary”) world, rather than the real (“Primary”) world. The secondary world will normally be internally consistent but its rules are in some way different from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterised by being set in the primary world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements.


I know Wikipedia is flawed as a research source but when it has the correct information it has the benefit of being put into simple and easy to access language which is why I borrowed my definition from the website. It at least makes sense which puts it far above most definitions of what makes something high fantasy.  Though I would object to them classifying Harry Potter as High Fantasy even though Hogwarts is technically a secondary world within the primary world.

Personally, I love reading high fantasy and I love writing it as well. Every aspect of the world and characters is controlled by you and you can change as much or as little as you like as long as you make the world and characters believable to your reader. The danger, or course, is getting so caught up in world building and character creation it takes 100,000 words just to set the scene. We all know that fantasy is prone to becoming serialised and trilogies and quadrilogies are pretty standard in the genre for a reason. Writing a high fantasy stand-alone novel is hard because you have to condense a lot of details and yet still make sure people understand where they are and what is going on.

Debbie Ledesma argues that high fantasy tends to concern itself with two themes.  The battle between good and evil and the quest and for the most part she is right.  There is no rule that says your high fantasy has to deal with either of these themes but for the most part high fantasy books have dealt with them. Debbie also lists the characteristics of the quest. I would think the quest would have to be popular because after creating an entire world most writers want to show it off and the quest is a convenient way to wander everywhere and see everything – see my comments on Eddings and Tolkien from a previous blog post.

The Buried Editor discusses why many fantasy books are written in third person point of view and not first person – again it is all about showing off the world you’ve spent so much time creating.

Thanks to Fiona for giving me a great suggestion for the post and I hope some of this is helpful – I will look at world building in a bit more detail next week.

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What Genre Do You Write?

December 18, 2009 at 5:11 am (fantasy, Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

I stumbled across Dorotie’s Blog the other day and read a post called “Crossing the Boundaries – Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror” and I found it raised a few interesting points.  Admittedly it left sci-fi and fantasy sitting together and contrasted both genres simultaneously with horror but it was still a good read.

The arguments brought forward are that in fantasy and science fiction the heroes have abilities that are comparable to their antagonists (yes, there are exceptions but for the most part that is true), that usually one of the characters has knowledge about what is going on or why it is happening (or they can find someone who can explain it), and that most of the characters will make it through the climax and live to the end of the story (again there are exceptions but generally this is true).  These things happen in fantasy and science fiction. In horror the heroes are usually completely powerless compared to the antagonist, they are usually completely clueless or misinterpreting the situation and most of them die in tragic ways usually long before they reach the climax.

All and all, I agree with these distinctions for the most part and it was something I hadn’t really thought about before.  I read all three genres prolifically and yet because most of the horrors I read are fantasy/horror or science fiction/horror I never bothered to think about what distinguished horror from the other two genres.  I have however spent a lot of time wondering where the line between fantasy and science fiction begins and ends.

I classify myself as a fantasy writer.  I deal with magic, mythical creatures, mental powers, gods, destinies and prophecies.  Mostly these are set in make believe worlds with very occasional attempts to write fantasy stories set on Earth in modern day without putting too many cues in that might date the story.

I have attempted to write a story set on a space ship.  The ship is alive and talks, has a very annoying personality (based on the original pilot of the ship) and the characters are all slightly off-kilter.  This is not a science fiction story.  There is no explanation of technology, no exploration of themes such as do machines have souls and what does it mean to be human, the physics of careening through space are left completely out of the story.  The ship flies.  It is piloted telepathically.  It is a fantasy.  The characters deal with their own personal demons, relationships form and are tested, and there is a minor political drama midway through that disappears entirely by the third act.  I will admit I class this as an attempt to write a fantasy in space.  I don’t think it was overly successful as the couple of fantasy readers who have had a look at it, don’t like it the setting and the science fiction readers who have read it claim there are too many scientific impossibilities.  Well, we have to try new things occasionally and I like enough of this story that I may salvage it and relocate the events to a fantasy world, or maybe I’ll just research myself up a storm and have a go at writing straight science fiction (somehow I doubt it).

What genre do you write?  How do you classify your genre?  Do you cross between or do you stick to one?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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