Writerly Benefits From Reading Widely

As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of genre snobbery. It’s limiting, makes reading less fun and means missing out on whole worlds of experiences. But what about for writers? Surely, if you’re an aspiring writer, you need to focus on reading obsessively in your own genre? Wouldn’t it be better to not get distracted by all those shiny titles outside the category you’re writing in? Well, while reading books in your own genre is *a must*, I’d argue reading widely is also vital for a writer’s development. Each genre has something special to offer and lots of unique lessons to learn. And even if successfully pulling off a technique is not guaranteed by simply knowing it exists, being exposed to a greater variety certainly helps! Let’s break it down by genre, shall we?

lily and jamesRomance– I mean the clue is in the title… romances teach you how to develop a romance. Whether it’s hate to love, friends to lovers or anything in between, all the tropes have been tried and tested in this very broad category. And it’s such a long-standing genre, so there are *countless* classics to choose from (not just harlequin novels with topless men on the covers 😉). If you want more banter and happily ever afters, then you need to be checking this out! What’s more, it doesn’t stop with the romantic relationships. Friendships and family relationships are a strong element of this genre- even if they’re dysfunctional (because, yes, you can learn how to write toxic relationships from this too- even if it’s just an accident of bad writing 😉). Basically anything related to relationships are going to be explored in this genre- so unless you’re writing a book about a hermit, you may want to at least try a romance sometime.

dragon gifFantasy– ahh my genre of choice. I could rave forever about why this genre is *out of this world*. Perhaps just one of the reasons I find it so rewarding is that, in some ways, it’s the purest form of storytelling. With more mythologically based narratives and archetypal characters, it can give an idealised version of reality (if not a real one). Plus, all that magic world building is great inspiration, because even if you’re setting it in the real world, you need to have a sense of place. It also has a great tradition of the pure evil villain or the fascist archetypal dictator- even if it’s not as good at the more human villains (although GRRM is a good example of someone breaking that mould). That said, it’s solid in the anti-hero department these days. If you need flawed, but lovable characters, then this is a great genre for it. 

spaceSci fi– this offers a lot of the same things as fantasy in terms of getting a sense of place… though it’s more rooted in reality (which is ironically very useful for fantasy writers!) I’m not a big sci fi reader, but even I can say it’s amazing for philosophical and existential discussions (not just cos this genre includes dystopias… though that’s a big pull!!). Plus, many space operas in particular know how to pack in *action*.

enchanted castle victorian homeHistorical– for me, this is another genre where the strong suit is the setting. Yet what I also like about historical fiction is how it brings facts to life. I also personally love how lots of historical fiction works so well as genre-crossers, blending lots of different categories into one. I’ve read so many that manage to be historical and a thriller and a romance. While every book should manage to do this, I’d say that I particularly love how historical fiction balances its themes and subplots.  

dr-evilThrillers– for me, thrillers are hands down the best for villains. A lot of the time you’ll have the opportunity to get in the head of some sick mothereffers. Thrillers also allow for sparser writing and occasionally atmospheric reads. It’s also good if you’re looking for some more of that realism (eek if a thriller spins into fantastical territory!). Plus, if you need a clue how to get plotting, pacing and twists right, then boy is this the genre for you!  

read-fastNon-fiction– well, for starters there’s nothing stranger than real life. Given that non fiction is factual (or at least it should be) you can get *actual knowledge* from them to use in your own books. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot about characterisation, people and the nature of evil from both memoirs and psychology books. But obviously, there’s so much more you can discover!

Of course, this was not an exhaustive list, but I hope it was inspiring! Do you believe there are writerly benefits from reading widely? What do you think they are? And what else do you get out of different genres? Let me know in the comments!

19 thoughts on “Writerly Benefits From Reading Widely

  1. I’m not an author but I know a few romance authors and they say they can’t read the genre they are writing at that time as it distracts them and I guess there is always the worry about the subconscious part of the brain adding a similar scene into their book…….but there are only so many situations in the world I guess!

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  2. Good article, makes a lot of sense. A lot of my fav fantasy books stretch the genre.

    I’ve been meaning to have a go at a writing a romance storyline. Def not my go-to genre. Maybe I can read some romance short stories as an easy way in.

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  3. I agree, there’s nothing stranger than real life! It really is a weird and (mostly) wonderful we live in and I regularly read things in nonfiction books, which I would have deemed completely unrealistic in a novel (the former president of US might be a good example 😉 ). So I think nonfiction is a great supplement to fiction!

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  4. YES yes!!! There’s a lot to learn from all sorts of genres…and I can’t agree more with non-fiction. I read a TON of nonfiction and honestly it’s influence my writing in a HUGE way, like….there’s so many random things to learn about in nonfiction that you would never learn anywhere else. (it also can be a good source of inspiration for writing, I’ve found)

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  5. I think we should always open up our minds to different genres…there’s beauty in all language and forms. I always read celebrity book club books because it makes me embrace books I might never have chosen or known about. I like boundary pushing

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  6. Great post! I think it’s important to read some genres outside the ones a writer writes to help with other facets of the story or character. I’m a multi-genre writer, but there are some genres I have no interest in such as sci-fi. For the longest time, I had no desire to read Fantasy either and then I came upon Cassandra Clare’s, The Shadowhunters (I think the Infernal Devices books are written much better), and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series. I am a snob when it comes to not reading the Bestseller Lists (maybe in 5 years), celebrity books, and celebrity book clubs.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah absolutely! Ah that’s totally fair- I also struggle with some genres (and didn’t read sci fi for the longest time). Love Six of Crows and definitely agree with you about infernal devices. Ah I get that! I think it’s good not to cave to hype!

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  7. I am a writer and I think reading widely is a fantastic way to learn about different writing styles, as well as learning about different ways of looking at the world. I could never stick just one genre – either as a reader or a writer. 🙂 I also think you can learn as much from books you don’t like as well as books you do like.

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  8. I couldn’t agree with you more!! You’ve nailed it again with this one. Extensive, expansive reading does so much for one’s writing–whether it’s your own story, a personal/topical essay, poetry, etc! Love the way you broke down each one of these as well, and the way they contribute to writing fiction.

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