Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reading in Genre

Last week, I wrote about how a good writer can write in any genre as long as they read, read, read in that genre. I think it's true. As Mike Arnzen said if you read a lot in a genre you learn the "deep structure" of the genre. Or what I like to think of as the necessary story elements a reader of a genre is looking for.
Readers of a genre are voracious and exacting- you can surprise them a little, but they come to a genre read with certain expectations and those expectations must be met in order to be successful as a writer of the genre. So, let's say you have a fabulous idea for a novel, you're not sure where it belongs in genre-it could be horror or paranormal or steam punk or urban fantasy... how do you know what it is you're writing? The best way is to take six weeks and dedicate yourself to reading in those genres, say a book a day. By the end of that time you will have a better understanding of where your novel idea fits and what elements you will need to be successful.
While the bestsellers like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson can pull a reader into a genre. They are not who you want to read when studying a genre. Why? Because bestsellers can break genre rules. They can write how they want. People buy them not for the genre but because as readers they have developed a relationship with the body of the bestseller's work. As a new-to-genre writer, you don't have the advantage of relationship. You have to build it. The only way to build it is to write a solid novel following genre readers' expectations. You want them to finish the book and say- "Yes, this writer gets me. I want to read more of what they write."

If reading bestsellers isn't a help- then who do you read? Read every debut novel in your genre. I know, the writing will be debut level- but and this is an important but- these are the stories the editors are buying now. (Well, actually they were bought two years ago. But you can see trends in genres and what editors are looking for in debut novels like yours.) While you are reading debut novels, you might also want to slip in a classic genre novel or two to get a feel for where the genre started compared to where it is now. Where it may be going tomorrow. Revisiting classics like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Zane Gray's westerns can help you understand how genre elements evolved.

Most writers write in their favorite genre. So they have a background in the genre story elements. If this is you, then steep yourself in your market. Know the difference between a Harlequin American series and a single title romance. (It's a big difference in both tone and length and reader expectation.) A solid understanding of your genre can only come from reading. But reading can give you the leg up in targeting your work and in the end selling the work. And that's what writing is all about, isn't it?


Marty said...

This is very good advice Nancy - thanks!

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Nancy!

I can always count on you to impart information that is both useful and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Great advice!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks everyone!! Okay, off to read... cheers!

Jessica said...

I love to read, and now you tell me it'll make me a better writer? LOL I'm all for that.
This is a great post. I've got one similar planned in a few blog posts because I just saw a movie that I really, really liked, even though some stuff was predictable. :-)
Reading is SO wonderful!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Having the opportunity to meet new authors, I find myself reading a lot of debut books (and enjoying them)but never thought about the 'side effects' of better understanding of genre 'rules.' Makes sense!

Marilyn Brant said...

Excellent advice, as always, Nancy. I don't think writers can ever read too much...which is part of my excuse to justify my book-buying habit :). Thanks for mentioning P&P, too!!

Hope you have a wonderful week.