I’ve been involved in discussions with other writers where they emphatically refuse to read books in the genre they write in. Some claim they are worried about inadvertently copying ideas. Others worry that it will affect their writing.
That’s the very reason I read widely in the genre I write – it does affect my writing. In fact, I think it makes me a better writer.
A tennis player doesn’t refuse to watch other tennis players because it might affect their game. There is so much opportunity to learn from what others are doing and why readers love their books.
Apart from the pleasure of reading books in the genre you love to write, they also make a great analytical tool.
Here are some things I have learned and continue to learn from other writers:
Strong beginnings – if I think my beginning is weak, I’ll read other books in the genre I’m writing and look at how these authors hook the reader in. What are their techniques? Can they be applied to improve my own manuscript?
Character voice – Reading a book with a strong character voice can help me identify why the voice of my own main character seems mundane. Perhaps I haven’t allowed their personality to show through enough. Perhaps I need to get to know my main character better.
Setting – Setting is one of my weaknesses. Sometimes I fail to let the reader know enough about where my characters are. Sometimes I don’t show how setting influences the story. Sometimes I forget to incorporate the setting as part of the action. These are all issues I have identified by reading the books of other writers who have done it so much better. I look at why their setting works and mine doesn’t?
Plotting – Over complicated plots are another of my weaknesses. Getting to the essence of a story in someone else’s book can help me identify the essence of mine. This helps me simplify my story.
Dialogue – To me, this is particularly important if you are an adult writing for kids or teens. Reading contemporary dialogue in other books can help you identify where yours may be stilted or unrealistic.
Sagging middles – How do other authors keep the momentum of the story going and why did their book hook me to the last page? Identifying these things can help me fix my own sagging middle, and make my story compelling all the way through. Has the author introduced more conflict or turning points for the character? How have they done this? Can this be applied to my own story?
The finale – I don’t care what anyone says, endings are hard. But they are an important part of what makes a book memorable. Reading how others have ended their book can help you work out how to tie up your loose ends.
Global Perspective – I also enjoy reading books from other countries. Apart from giving me a world view, they also introduce me to other writing techniques and devices that might not be ‘popular’ in Australia.
To me, reading other people’s books isn’t copying – it’s all about honing your craft.
What do you think? What sorts of things do you look for when reading books in the genre you write? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.