Write What You Read?

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I’ve heard and read lots of writing advice, and many people say to write what you know. Also, many people say that to be a (good) writer you have to read a lot. I don’t think I’ve heard this as an actual quote, but it’s been implied, that you write what you read (like, ‘you are what you eat’).

To contest that, I’ve met many writers who struggle to find the time to read. I myself struggle to read even the required reading for my course, so when I finish a novel I’ve been reading for pleasure, it’s a pretty big deal. Contrast that to my childhood when I devoured book after book and got into trouble for reading under the desk at school. For me, the telly is an alternative that requires less effort to enjoy since it’s more passive.

Of course to an extend I think how much you get out of reading depends what you’re trying to write. In terms of format, I write prose but it’s been commented that my dialogue is quite script-like, which could be because I ‘read’ (watch) more scripts than I read prose. Since I want to be a scriptwriter, and I’ve got pretty good feedback for prose in this style, I’m not going to worry too much, though I would like to read a lot more than I do–I have so many book samples on my Kindle awaiting reading.

Genre, I think, is a more interesting one. This is all just my opinion, I am by no means saying any writers should take my word as law, but I think it is possible to write in a genre you don’t really read–although it comes with limitations. I should explain.

For a case study, take one of my novels (a work in progress), Shadow Charge. Unlike my other novel WIP, Crossfire, SC is I think pretty difficult to define as a genre. I think the closest possible descriptive would be supernatural whodunit. But on its own that doesn’t sum it up. I would say that SC is part whodunit, part ghost story, part time travel, part psychological thriller, with a touch of romance, and that description is subject to some altering between now and publication (which is not foreseeable for some years). Out of all those genre labels, I don’t read very many. Take psychological thrillers, for example. I don’t make a habit of reading them because many of them freak me out a bit. The same with ghost stories. While I have not read many whodunits, I have watched countless ones on television so I am familiar with tropes and so forth (though I have read two Agatha Christies and one Conan Doyle to date, so I’m not doing too badly).

What’s my point? Well I won’t know for certain till the novel is at a point where I get a lot of feedback on it, but the way the plot has played out I think it works–if I can iron out the wrinkles. Because the novel is such a blend of genres–when I got the initial idea, I would have called it a fantasy, but it has since become apparent that despite its links to my fantasy novel, the actual story is very different–being fluent in its genre(s) is not so vital, because it’s something new. That’s not to say I won’t continue to persue reading more whodunit etc novels. Though I have yet to come across someone who’s had an idea quite like mine. (If you know of something that crosses all those genres, please do tell me, I’d be interested to read it.) On the other hand, I would not dare to try and write a straight romance or straight psychological thriller before becoming fluent in the genre first–I don’t believe I would have the tools to make it a great, stand-out story that way.

So, some food for thought. Do any writers reading this write ‘blended’ genres? How much experience do you reckon you need for each? Please do comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Write What You Read?

    MissTiffany said:
    March 5, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I do think writers should read as often as they can – and watching movies and/or TV shows can be just as effective (especially if you want to be a scriptwriter), though I don’t think you should only write what you know. How can you learn if you don’t try new things?

    I find it hard to limit stories to one genre lots of times – and I think most books are simply put into the genre that is most prevalent in the story. Of course you can have murder-mystery fantasy or a sci-fi-paranormal romance.

    I don’t think there is a specific amount of reading needed to write a blended genre – I think as long as you are comfortable with what the genre entails, the rest should follow – and of course, the concept, plot and characters of your story, no matter what genre should be the most important. The book I’m working on at the moment, Tempests, is more a fantasy than anything else, but is also part romance, part adventure and part mystery. I’ve read quite a lot of all those genres, and tend to turn to my favorite authors if I am stuck. Reading their words and feeling the flow of their story usually inspires me to continue writing.

      aharlequin responded:
      March 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

      I agree, writers should experiment and try new things, though some research is needed before one can become a master of one particular genre, I think. As for mixing genres, they’re probably easier in a way because readers expect them to break the mould. In terms of my own mixed-genre novel, I need to do a lot of research for it–but none of it’s to do with the genre, I’m talking technical details. Which is why it’s on the back-burner for the time being, unfortunately, even though I had the idea long before my other, closer-to-being-finished novel. Anyway …

      Thank you very much for your comment 🙂 (Sorry it took a while to reply, my internet’s on the blink!)

      -Alex

        MissTiffany said:
        March 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm

        Thanks alright, I was sick over the weekend anyway, so I haven’t been online. I think anyone who wants to be a writer had better get used to research, and a lot of it for any genre or mixed genre they want to attempt. I know what you meant with technical details – it can be so frustrating, yet satisfying once you’ve put the work in and can finally write it. Good luck!

    aharlequin responded:
    March 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Thank you very much, and hope you’re feeling better!

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