Now we’re reading like writers it’s time to experiment. Someone once told me that, as a fantasy writer, I shouldn’t be reading so much fantasy, which is rubbish. How can you refine you writing and learn your market in a particular genre if you don’t read it? However, it does help not to confine yourself to that genre.
I’m not going to tell you to go out and read books you hate, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then you’ve hobbled yourself before you’ve begun. For example, the person who told me I shouldn’t read so much fantasy also told me I had to read Twilight. I have no objection to people liking Twilight but I tried it and I didn’t, I know why I didn’t but as I’ve already said this week I’m not picking other people’s work apart.
Despite not being a fantasy writer, and never having read a fantasy book, this person thought they knew better than I did about my chosen genre. I might not have read Twilight cover-to-cover however I had read dozens other books featuring different interpretations of vampires, and that wasn’t counting movies and TV shows I’d seen or other research. This person couldn’t seem to grasp not only that writing adult fantasy and YA fantasy were different but also I had a fairly good understanding of my chosen genre. The point of my anecdote is: don’t let people tell you that you ‘have to read this book’ or ‘you’re not reading enough books’. You know what you want to write, by the time you’ve decided this you probably have a back catalogue of books you’ve read. Nobody has a right to make you feel inferior about your reading choices, which is why I’m not going to wax lyrical on why I didn’t like Twilight because other people do and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What I mean when I speak about not confining yourself to that particular genre is that sometimes you will discover different techniques that you can apply to your genre outside of it. For example if I look at my bookshelf, one of many, there’s a line of fantasy books: Jamieson, O’Malley, Pratchett, Armstrong, Briggs, Harris, Bateman? That being Colin Bateman, the crime writer. The Bateman books I have are The Mystery Man novels which are written in first-person, they’re funny (I think), and their lead character is a disaster prone amateur sleuth who sometimes gets the wrong conclusion. What did I learn from these? Largely how unreliable an unreliable narrator can be and yet still be appealing. In fact, I might say my favourite thing about The Mystery Man is how unreliable he is.
I like to think I have a good knowledge of fantasy fiction, though not encyclopaedic, and I can’t think of a fantasy novel where at the end the character refuses to believe the actual solution. If you can think of one I’d be interested to know.
Had I not read outside fantasy fiction then I wouldn’t have come across Bateman and might not have learnt this technique, though whether I can employ or not it is another matter but it’s there in my head. And, frankly, I really enjoy the books.
So, read as much of your genre as you want but don’t forget, there’s a whole world of enjoyable books beyond it.