Although I’ve talked about why it’s important to read more than one genre of fiction before, I ended up thinking about it again whilst watching a music video. It was a video for a modern heavy metal song called “Afterlife” by Metalite and I noticed that, like with another modern metal band called Rage Of Light, the song contained elements from the trance/electronica genres.
Surprisingly, this really works. Both genres of music are fairly energetic, not to mention that the “colder” sound of the synthesizers goes really well with the “warmer” sound of the guitars. Yet, this awesome innovation couldn’t have happened if the musicians had only listened to nothing but heavy metal music. But, what does any of this have to do with writing?
First of all, I should probably repeat the old advice about reading and writing. In other words, if you’re writing fiction, then you also need to read it regularly too. Not only will this give you direct experience of being a reader, which will help you to see your own fiction from your reader’s perspective (eg: things like pacing, flow etc..) but it will also teach you all sorts of techniques that you probably won’t find in a writing guide. It’ll show you what does and doesn’t “work” in stories (yes, even terrible novels can be educational) and it just generally makes you a better writer.
But, what does this have to do with reading several genres of fiction? After all, if reading regularly makes you a better writer, then why shouldn’t you just read your favourite genre of books?
If you only read one genre of fiction, then the fiction you write will be limited to everything that has already been done in that genre. All of the writing techniques you use will be ones that you’ve seen in a limited number of novels. The type of plot that you will write won’t be too different to the general story types in that genre. Your characters will be similar to other characters in the genre. Your story might still end up being really good, but it won’t be the kind of outstanding, memorable thing that will end up inspiring other writers.
On the other hand, if you read several genres of fiction, then you’ll be exposed to a much wider variety of characters, you’ll see writing techniques that you haven’t encountered before and you’ll spot things that you really love and think “how can I add this to my favourite genre?“. In short, you’ll have a much wider range of inspirations and experiences to draw from when you are writing your story. And, this will result in a more interesting, original and compelling story.
But, how does this work in practice?
To give you an example, take a look at a zombie novel from 2009 called “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry. Although this novel contains all of the stuff you’d expect to see in a zombie novel, one interesting change is that it is written and structured like a mainstream thriller novel. Even the main character is a bit more like someone you’d see in a novel by Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly etc… than the typical “ordinary person” main character you’d usually find in a zombie novel.
Although this experiment doesn’t work perfectly (since the thriller elements reduce the horror slightly), it makes for a really interesting and memorable novel. It also allows the story to have a slightly more innovative plot too. Instead of the usual story about people trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse, this novel is a much more fast-paced story about a secret team of elite soldiers trying to stop bio-terrorists from causing a zombie apocalypse. It’s a small change, but it is the sort of thing that you probably wouldn’t think of if you only read zombie fiction.
To give you another example, take a look at P. N. Elrod’s 1990 novel “Bloodlist“. This is a hardboiled “noir” crime story set in 1930s Chicago, but with an interesting twist. The main character is a recently-turned vampire.
This automatically makes it more interesting than both the average vampire novel and the average hardboiled crime novel. After all, not only has the main character got to deal with being a vampire, but he’s also got to investigate a series of mysteries (starting with finding out who murdered him when he was human). It is the kind of creative idea that Elrod could only have because she’s read stuff in both of these two genres.
So, if you are writing fiction, then remember to read more than one genre of fiction. It will result in much better and more interesting stories.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂