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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

War of the Genres



We’ve all heard them. Those assumptions about the different genres found in fiction. 
Literary: Boring. Nothing more than whiny characters.
Thriller and horror: Cheap thrills for the intellectually challenged.
Romance: Smut. Nothing more than the flashing of body parts.
Picture Books: Coloring books with words.

You can probably add to this list of what you’ve heard for your favorite genre, but have you turned your back on a genre you figured you could never enjoy? Maybe if you give it a chance, it could open your eyes to a world of possibilities. Possibilities that could cause your writing career to leap into a whole new stratosphere.  

Some Benefits of Reading Outside Your Genre
Certain genres are character-based while others focus on plot. If you read predominantly plot-based stories, you’re missing out on an opportunity to see how others develop characters readers love to connect with. If they (and this includes agents and editors) connect with your characters, they’ll keep turning the pages. This is what you want. Romance, young adult, and horror are a few genres that rely heavily on emotions. Thrillers and suspense are perfect examples for solid pacing. By reading other genres, it will help you further develop your craft.
And let’s not ignore the ideas that might be triggered by reading outside your genre. Just don’t forget to make them your own and not a copy of someone else’s story.

Challenge Your Assumptions
Before you shoot down a genre, make sure your beliefs are based on education and not on assumptions. By education, I mean borrow books in the genre then actually read them. But make sure you do this with an open mind. If you’ve already told yourself the genre is a waste of shelf space, nothing short of a miracle will change that opinion.

Which Books to Read?
When looking for a book to read, find out what titles won the genre’s prestigious awards. You can read the bestsellers, but sometimes they aren’t the best representation of it. The books might have been heavily promoted because they landed the author an equally hefty advance.  On the other hand, you might love them as much as their fans.

Target Audience
Keep in mind the genre’s target audience. You might not appreciate Dancing Cinderella (a Disney Princess book); however, many six-year-old girls love it. It’s all right not to like middle grade or young adult novels, but remember, you weren’t their target audience to begin with.

Goals of the Genre
You might not think a genre is worth reading, but you might be surprised when you discover the goals it sets out to achieve. For example, many people assume erotic romance is nothing more than pornography. It isn’t. The sexual encounters between the heroine and hero are predominantly there as part of the character’s personal growth, for example, trust of the opposite gender. Another genre would utilize a different approach for the same goal. Each has its own purpose.

The common writing advice we hear is to read outside your genre. Have you recently tried one you’ve never considered reading? One you felt wasn’t worth your time? You never know, you might discover one you never expected to like. Maybe you’ll even write a novel in it and see your career take off in a direction you never expected. Now, wouldn’t that be worth it?

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative 

22 comments:

Sophia Chang said...

You say "smut" and "cheap thrills" like it's a bad thing...

;)

Theresa Milstein said...

I think it's important to read outside out genre. What if THE IDEA is outside our genre? It's nice to be prepared.

April said...

You know, I never used to venture far outside my comfort zone. Just crime novels and women's fiction and literary fiction. But then I read a YA. And then a fantasy. And then more YA and fantasy. Some romance. Some futuristic stuff....my point being that there is so much great stuff out there! I love trying new genres! Even if I end up not finishing it because it isn't for me (like steampunk), at least I gave it a shot. More often than not, I end up loving it instead!

Meredith said...

So very true. You can't judge a genre without reading it. And I love the point that some genres are plot-based while others rely on character development--you really can learn a lot by reading various genres! Great post.

Margo Berendsen said...

Good advice about checking out to see what books top the list of a certain genre. I think I've read in most genres except maybe westerns :) but I know I should branch out more.

mshatch said...

I've read a lot of books in many genres and while the above may be true of some it is certainly not true of all. I'll just mention two in the genres of fantasy and science fiction: The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle and A Wrinkle in Time (which won a Newberry) by Madeleine L'Engle.

Thanks for the reminder that great books come in all genres :)

Heather said...

"Challenge your assumptions," and "read outside your genre," I love it! Stellar advice. So much opens up and I find that my writing enriches when I do these things.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Go, Stina!! Great post. I resist reading out of my genre, but when I do, I'm always grateful I did it. I think every genre has great books and not so great books in it. It's good there are so many because there are so many different tastes.

Caledonia Lass said...

Great post! I always read outside of my genre. I'm not a huge fan of romance (that is no secret) but I do read it. There are some out there that have awesome plots and I like those the best.
I have romance in my books and I need to know how to write it. But when I do write it, I call it my "squishy part" and read over it as fast as I can. I'm just a dork that way. ;)
Have an awesome vacation!

Mark Noce said...

All genres rock...just maybe some more than others;) Audience is def key. I think a lot of personal taste goes into it, so trying to figure out people's taste usually dictates their view of books.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I often read outside my genre. There is always something interesting to be learned.

Christina Lee said...

Good stuff, Stina! I have to read outside of my genre just to take a break sometimes-and it always ends upo being useful!!!

laughingwolf said...

i look for new ways of saying things, especially when it comes to dialog...

no one speaks exactly the same way, if we did, how boring it would be...

how a character talks gives insight into their personality

good'un, stina :)

Becca Puglisi said...

I admit to sticking primarily to fantasy and historical fiction. But the times when I do step out into a new genre and like what I find, I'm always so happy to have done it. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, but after seeing references here there and everywhere to Ender's Game, I checked it out. Loved it.

Thanks, Stina!

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great points to give other genres a chance and broaden our horizons.

I'm going to give it a try.

Kathi

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I know a number of people who decided to write a book outside their normal genre, and ended up being published. :D

Laura Pauling said...

I read an adult novel. Before I Go To Sleep. Wonderfully creepy! Isn't that weird - when writers get published when they decide to write outside their genre. I think it's important to experiment!

Laura Marcella said...

I read outside my genre all the time. I'll read anything and everything because I love it all! The only thing I don't read is horror but that's because I'm a big baby. I've read some and it was a big mistake. I got too scared and had super crazy dreams. Never again, LoL!

Rachael said...

I always hate it when people say "YA isn't literature" like YA books are somehow substandard just because they're written for teens.

Ninety percent or more of what I read is YA. Once in awhile I'll dip into middle grade or adult, but I mostly stay within my range. Most of the time when I dip into the adult books, it's because there's a movie coming out (My Sister's Keeper, The Lovely Bones, Water for Elephants).

I don't mind dipping into new genres, but I don't do it very often. It seems like most of the time I do that, I don't really enjoy what I find.

Stephanie Faris said...

When I wrote romance, it always bugged the heck out of me that people would say "all romance novels are ____" without ever having read one. Men were especially bad about that. I never could get my friends past that stereotype. Now that I write children's books, I've been warned that people may pooh-pooh children's book writing as though anyone can do it. You know, because it's "Easy."

Medeia Sharif said...

I read most genres, except westerns.

You're right about the bestseller list. I'd rather look at awards or books off-the-beaten path (wonderful finds that way).

I tend to read adult mysteries and thrillers when I read outside my genre, but I'm open to other types of books.

Leslie Rose said...

Super post, Stina. I'm always amazed how books far afield from what I write inspire me and send me in directions with my own work that I may never have gone.