I’ve done a good job of curating my Twitter lists, so I often come across insightful and educational threads. And then there are the tweets that just make me shake my head. *smile*
Late last week, I saw a conversation on Twitter that prompted a head shake and an audible “What?” Not that the people I follow had said anything wrong. In this case, my shock was with the replies.
The conversation centered on whether writers should read current books in their genre. I’ve often talked about how writers should also be readers, so I figured the answer was a “duh.” However, others pushed back—to the point of attacking the tweeter—for suggesting such a thing.
So let’s follow up with the conversation and see what we can learn…
Why Should Writers Be Readers?
As I said above, to my mind, the advice that writers should also be readers would be common sense. But for those who might not have considered the question before, I’m going to touch on some of the reasons why that’s good advice.
- Reading fiction can help us learn about story structure and why it’s important, even to readers.
- Reading can give us examples of how to develop plot twists, establish tension, and create good pacing.
- Reading can also give us examples of how to develop characters that will keep reader interest.
- Reading broadens our toolbox of possibilities for hooking readers, immersing them in our story, and evoking their emotions.
- Reading can show us how to break the “rules” and get away with it.
None of that even goes into how if someone doesn’t like (much less love) reading, why would they want to write a book? I don’t understand why anyone would want to spend so much time on creating an art form they don’t enjoy for themselves.
What’s Controversial about the Advice?
Sure, it can be difficult to fit in time to read. Or maybe we lack the funds or access to a library to acquire books to read. But what could possibly make the advice itself so controversial as to lead to attacks and name-calling?
Author Sarah Nicolas tweeted:
Yes, people are STILL arguing with my suggestion that aspiring writers read ONE recent book. One. Not one hundred. Not to never read older books. Not write a book exactly like that one. Just read one recent book. And they cannot handle it. I’m flabbergasted https://t.co/2OZ9BmbpP4
— Sarah *read a book* Nicolas (@Sarah_Nicolas) February 6, 2020
(Click on the thread to see examples of the crazy replies they received.)
Okay, so their suggestion was that we read one recent book, and that’s the aspect many took exception to. Should that idea be controversial?
Why Should Writers Read at least One Recent Book?
The replies often assumed that all recent books are garbage. Thus they felt the advice to read them automatically meant that we’re supposed to write similar “garbage” and were offended.
Is the advice to read a recent book in our genre common sense? Or controversial? Click To TweetEven without getting into those types of value judgments or questions of outdated styles, there are reasons to read recent books in our genre. We can learn from them no matter the choices we want to make for our story.
What can a recent book teach us that an older book can’t? (And remember, Sarah wasn’t saying to read only recent books—just to make sure to read at least one published in the last 5 years.)
- Reading recent books in our genre helps us learn what cover styles will appeal to our potential readers (and let them know what kind of book we’ve written). Even if we want to write in an older style, we might still want to stay up to date on cover styles so readers will be able to recognize our story’s genre.
- Reading recent books teaches us about different approaches of point-of-view, as books have leaned toward a deeper POV over the years. Even if we want to write in a more distant style, we might be able to adapt some elements of deep POV to increase immersion or emotion, such as using a flexible POV that’s usually shallow but dips deeper during emotional turning points.
- Reading recent books ensures that ideas we think are new or fresh in our genre aren’t already so overused as to be a cliche. Even if we want to avoid modern stories because we think they’re trite and not weighty enough, if we’re not familiar with current works, our innovative idea might be so overused as to create the “trite” we so wanted to avoid, and we’d never even know it.
- Reading recent books can teach us about the current market and what’s popular. Even if we decide to ignore those lessons, we might be able to tweak our marketing to appeal to those readers, increasing our audience, or know what makes our writing truly unique. Market research doesn’t mean the same thing as “writing to market.”
- Reading recent books gives us ideas about what books we could list as comparable titles in a query if we’re taking the traditional publishing path. Even if we’ve made choices more popular in older books, agents want to see comps from the past 2 years or so. Listing older books just tells them we don’t know the market (and at least one agent suggests that writers read 100 recent books in their genre!)
Gather Information to Make Intentional Choices
If we never read current books, how could we know whether they’re actually “garbage” or not? That idea echoes the opinion of too many who assume the entire romance genre is worthless: How could they possibly understand the breadth of the genre when they don’t read it?
What can we learn from reading recent books in our genre? Click To TweetGood writing means that every aspect of our story and writing craft is intentional. To make intentional choices, we need information to know what our options are, as well as what we like and dislike. (We might discover we like more about recent books than we thought.)
Maybe the old styles of writing are a great fit for our story, but maybe one new technique would make a certain aspect even better. We wouldn’t know unless we learn about our options. We need to read recent books to learn about our choices for styles, language use, voice, character development, emotional resonances, etc.
In any field, if we want to be good at our job, we have to keep up with new developments. We consider it part of our job training. If writing is a career for us in any way, we should treat it the same and keep an eye out for new ideas. *smile*
How much do you read between your writing projects? How much do you read in your genre? How much do you read that’s recent? Do you think the advice to read recent books is controversial or common sense? What reasons do you have for that perspective?Pin It