This past weekend, my family watched an old ’70s movie inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is only slightly related to the book (two orphans with magical powers have to evade bad guys and find the rest of their people), but we enjoyed the cheesy special effects anyway. After the movie, I dug through my collection of childhood favorites, and sure enough, I still had my copy of the book.
That trip down memory lane got me thinking about the other books I loved when I was a kid. I still have—yes, I kept these too—several books by Ruth Chew, including The Magic Cave, Summer Magic, and The Trouble with Magic. Each of those books are about two kids who encounter magic of one sort or another. Hmm…
While I haven’t reread any of those books since I was a kid, I’ve reread one of my other favorites several times over the years. Unlike the others, which were buried, The Chronicles of Narnia lives on my keeper shelf next to my desk (in the original publication order of course).
Notice a trend? Taken as a whole, all of those books involve magic and make a case for my favorite genre as a child being fantasy, specifically contemporary fantasy, where at least part of the story takes place in this world.
So maybe it’s no surprise that as an adult I write paranormal romance (contemporary fantasy in “a kissing book” *grin*). Exchange a sexy hero and a strong heroine for the brother/sister teams of those childhood books, and there are yet more similarities.
Do Our Childhood Reading Preferences Still Affect Us?
That realization this past weekend made me wonder if I was alone with how my childhood preferences carried forward to my adult reading habits. Just like back then, I read more broadly than a single genre, but my favorites tend to cluster around stories with certain elements.
As a child, I loved magical/fantasy stories for their sense of awe and wonder and limitless possibilities. I read classic science fiction for the mind-expanding commentary on what makes us human and on understanding our potential. I enjoyed general fiction for the exploration of relationships between characters.
All of those preferences—awe and limitless possibilities, social commentary, revealing humanity’s potential, and searching for life’s meaning through relationships—still hold true for me today. The stories and genres I read now have grown up and matured, but the aspects that resonate with me haven’t changed.
Or Do Our Reading Preferences Change Along with Us?
I’ve mentioned before that our worldview might not change over our lifetime, and for some of us, maybe this story-type preference is a similar situation. But for others, our reading habits might change along with our evolving personalities.
Those of us who become more cynical in the face of adulthood might find different story elements resonate with us now. Ditto for those scarred by betrayals, grief, or life’s struggles. Still others might see more happiness in life as we age out of the awkwardness and angst of our younger years.
Maybe my preferences have remained the same only because I’m now old enough to have emerged from my cynical phase and circled back to my inherent Pollyanna optimism. As C.S. Lewis wrote to his Goddaughter Lucy Barfield in the dedication of Narnia’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
Do Those Childhood Preferences Affect Our Writing?
I would never claim that either situation—our preferences staying the same or changing—was “right” or “wrong.” As I mentioned, I believe my preferences have changed over the years.
In my case, discovering the joy of writing helped me circle back to where I started. And this brings up the “part B” of my realization: What I loved reading as a child shares similarities with what I love writing now.
Those elements of “limitless possibilities, social commentary, revealing humanity’s potential, and searching for life’s meaning through relationships” fill my paranormal romance stories. Like most authors, my writing encompasses aspects of everything I’ve experienced. But I still found it interesting to see threads of influences in my writing all the way back to my single-digit years.
Know Ourselves; Know Our Writing
As authors, we tend to question ourselves about everything, all the time. Some of us even question whether we’re writing the “right” genre. Would X genre be better? Or maybe Y? Others of us question our voice, the point of view we use, the mood or tone of our stories, etc.
Maybe looking back at our childhood and seeing those early influences will help us understand why we might be pulled in one direction or another with our writing. Or maybe seeing how our preferences have changed over the years will help us accept that we don’t have to write what we used to read.
Just as understanding our worldview
might help us recognize our themes,
understanding our reading habits over the years
might help us recognize our influences and preferences.
My understanding of my “love is powerful” worldview showed me why I’m drawn to writing romance stories. And now this understanding of my life-long preference for fantastical stories showed me why everything I write includes something paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction-esque.
Some industry insiders (agents and editors) have stated that paranormal romance is “dead” (they think it’s an over-saturated market), and this attitude has caused me to question my choices for the last several months. However, this new understanding of why I write what I do brought me peace:
I have to write what resonates within me. I can’t change genres without losing a piece of myself.
Not everyone will agree with that attitude. Some don’t mind chasing the market. Some want (or need) to prioritize income. Those aren’t “bad” or “wrong” choices.
Either way, we want to make the right decisions for us. And the best way we can do that is by gaining an understanding of ourselves, our influences, our preferences—and our writing. *smile*
What types of stories did you love as a child? Have the elements that appeal to you changed over your lifetime, and if so, in what way have they changed? If they’ve changed, why do you think that happened? How have your reading preferences influenced your writing? Can you still see some of your childhood loves in your work?Pin It