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Do you read books in the genre you write?

2 min read

Reading in your genre can be both useful and a problem. It depends on how you take it, how it affects your writing, and how you use it.

If it helps you hone your skills, it’s fine. But if it ties you down to a kind of writing that is far from being your own voice or that makes your work look like any other work in the same genre, you might want to avoid it.

Genres have tropes. They have elements that make them what they are. Action stories, for example, usually have a chase scene. Crime novels always have a forensic team and a detective with some sort of problem. Fantasy has strange creatures with weird names. And so on.

I’m not criticizing. Genres are what they are. And reading books like the one you want to write is wise because you learn all these tropes and elements, and you learn what your ideal reader is familiar with or expects so you can either give them what they want or present them a new perspective, a surprise. And that’s where I’m trying to get here.

If reading in the genre you write makes you sound like everybody else and give your readers just what they expect, you should read other genres to change that. They might like your work but I’d like to see something different for a change.

It’s a natural behavior, though. I’m gonna give you a personal example. I’m a lawyer, and since Law School, I’ve been reading these legal workbooks and theory. They all sound the same.

There’s a particular silent rule among legal theorists and lawyers (at least in Brazil) where there’s a need to use legalese everywhere and sound indispensable, an expert. Words we don’t use in our daily life and a vocabulary full of flowers, heretofores, and thereins to make a point and prevent the layman from understanding these texts are the central “tropes” of legal works.

I’m not saying that we should start using slang or write like we talk in important legal works, but you can spot the mimicking writer just by reading their first sentences, and that can make us strike them as full of shit instead of real specialists in their fields.

The same applies to literature. We will always be compared to some author, we will always have to check some trope boxes if we want to fit in a certain genre, but we should always try to avoid repeating what we read and bring our voice and originality to our texts.

At least that’s what I think.

Between the lines…

What do you think about reading in the genre you write?

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