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Q&A

Should you read your own genre?

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In terms of novel writing, I tend to avoid my own genre, at least for the most part. Some of the reasons why:

Genre Blindness / Genre Trap: Too much reading of your own genre blinds you to the tropes and clichés used by the genre which then pervade your own work.

Writing Style Influences Here your own writing style and language use subconsciously begins to take on elements often found in the genre making your work less unique.

Losing your Ideas Perhaps paranoia, but seeing ideas you have or even half-formed ideas fully can kill them. A new idea is delicate thing and needs to be incubated from such things. Avoiding your own genre avoids this danger.

However, not reading your own genre is also making a sacrifice in terms of exposure to what works and what doesn't. Particularly with historical fiction this also means missing out on the tacit research performed by others.

What do others think? Am I doing the right thing here?

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I would say 100% you should be well read in your genre. There are several reasons why, but the most important is because you should become familiar with conventions in your genre.

Why is this important? Because you know what readers are likely expecting when they read your book. By being familiar with what those are, you are able to know when you can and can't break those conventions. Just like any master craftsman who knows their trade inside out can start tampering with the basics to create something new, so too can a writer who knows their chosen genre.

Remember, too, that you are writing for an audience, not just yourself, and that audience will be well-read, and are going to have expectations when they buy your book based on the fact that it's "Science Fiction", or "Crime", or "Horror", or whatever.

Also, you mention genre blindness, and writing style, but this is a result of you only ever reading one genre, which is not the same as being widely read in that genre. Reading widely in different genres is, in my view, essential to the craft of writing because then you can cross-pollinate different ideas.

Being widely read in a genre means you know what's gone before, and that can only be a good thing. I understand you said that you shouldn't crush half-formed ideas, but there is nothing worse as a writer to come up with an idea that you think is interesting and unique, only to be told, "So-and-so did this in the classic book XYZ." By reading widely in your genre, you should be inspired to tweak your ideas, change them so that they're not the same as someone else, build on them. Ideas are never static, and you should never be so rigid in your ideas as to fall over at the first hurdle when you discover someone has done something similar. Don't be crushed, be inspired! Do it different.

Hope that helps.

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Is what you're doing working for you? Like, are you achieving your goals following this method? If so, then I'd keep doing it. If not, I'd switch.

I know that's a bit vague, but I think it might be pretty accurate. I agree that there's a risk of becoming derivative if you read in your own genre, but I also agree that you're missing out, not only on research and seeing 'what works', but also on understanding the market and what different publishers are looking for.

So it's kind of hard to know what to recommend without knowing what areas of your writing you think you need to be working on. If you're having a tough time understanding your genre, I'd say you need to read more from the field. If you're having a tough time being original, maybe you should avoid it.

Personal experience: I write romance, but I don't read it. It DOES make it a bit harder to decide where to submit my stories (I guess this wouldn't be a problem if you work with an agent), but I think it keeps me fresh.

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Your considerations are spot-on. Very nice question.

You should definitely be familiar with your genre. If you know enough to place your work within a specific genre, then it had better fit there well. Each genre has its own rules, guidelines, conventions, expectations, cliches, and fatal faux pas. Writing with little personal familiarity with the genre is very likely to be blundering around; even if you write a good book, it's very unlikely to be a good genre book.

On the other hand, you do not need to be an academic expert, and furthermore you do not need to be up to date with the cutting edge.

You don't need to be an expert because most of your readers won't be, and won't care about the academia - they'll care about the story. To take an example from my own home territory of SF/F, you don't need to be able to pinpoint precisely whether your story is a "proper" science-fiction piece and whether it has literary merit, or whether it should be categorized as "magic realism" or more "slipstream". You can, but you don't need to in order to write, nor in order to be read.

Nor do you need to be extremely up-to-date on your genre, aware of all the latest stories and authors and ideas. Partially because, again, a lot of your readers won't be, so they won't care. Partially because it's safe to assume that anything that's your own unique idea will be distinct enough from other things going on that it will have merit on its own. You should be aware of huge things, works that are massively popular (or notorious) - I can tell you that urban paranormal is different after Twilight, even though I've never read the books and I'm not a fan of the genre. When there's something big and current, you should be aware of that, and figure out if it affects your own work - it might; it might not. The Matrix didn't affect time-travel stories much, The Time Traveller's Wife did. But huge changes like that are pretty rare, and fairly easy to keep up with (particularly because you don't have to actually read even the genre-changing ones unless they directly pertain to your own specific work).


So, you should be familiar with your genre - to the extent that you could read a genre book, and express an opinion on whether or not it was a good genre book. That's the same judgment you'll be using to examine your own work. But you don't need to be constantly reading in your genre - it just doesn't change that fast. And if you personally find that reading in genre can cause problems for you, like the ones you detailed in your question, then IMHO you're quite right that it isn't necessary and can be avoided, if so you choose.

I'd consider reading in-genre very occasionally, just to "keep in touch," as it were. From your description, I don't think that would cause the problems you're concerned about, and I think it would be beneficial. But as long as you remain a good judge of how your writing will work within your chosen genre, anything else is entirely a question of what you like and what works well for you.

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After reading the questions, I have one question: Are you serious? You want to sell cars, but you have no clue about the different brands, the different models, which series is very often in the garage, because it's crap, which cars are reliable even after 200,000km, what extra is worth paying for and why and and and.

Who, who is right in his mind, would buy a car from you?

After reading the existing answers, I was puzzled even more. You do not know your market, you do not know your readers, but you want write for them?

You cannot write in a genre, if you do not know the genre. Only exception: you invent your own genre. (And that's a questionable idea.)

Take a genre you dislike. Romance, thrillers whatever. Sit down and write a novel in it. I'm interested how far you will get. And no, half knowledge is not any better. A writer reads a lot. A lot in the genre he writes in. (Yes, also in other genres, which include non-fiction for fiction writers and fiction for non-fiction writers. But that's only a bonus.) Know what you write about or do not write about it.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/2168. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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