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!

What even is YA?

thoughts orangutan

Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!