Elevating Your Writing Through Reading

One of the problems I encountered in my MFA program was that most of the students in my program weren’t terribly literate beyond the genres they wanted to study. “I don’t read your genre” was a common phrase. Worse still, many students didn’t read beyond genre, they didn’t read literary fiction (or literary genre because everything is genre).

Good works of fiction—whether genre or literary—have it all. That is, they have suspense, romance, adventure, and even a bit of magic no matter how subtle. Great fiction features something for every reader.

In order to write well, it’s important for the writer to read beyond their preferred genre. If you want to write fantasy, you’ll need to read beyond fantasy. If you want to write romance, you’ll need to read beyond romance. If you want to write horror, you’ll need to read beyond horror. You’ll need to read poetry, essays, histories, biographies, and other works of fiction and nonfiction. It’s a tall order, but it’s what a writer does to become a better writer.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the depiction of antagonists in contemporary fiction. These people—whether male or female—are easy enough to spot within a few pages of their appearance; the villain is saccharine sweet, annoyingly aloof, or raging like a brute. Why do these patterns appear? Because that’s how antagonists are portrayed in genre fiction. In mysteries, this can be used to great effect in order to mislead the reader, but that’s peculiar to mysteries. (Honestly, more fantasy writers should read mysteries for precisely this reason. The black-robed sorcerer is often too easy to spot). Most works in a specific niche of genre fiction are flimsy copies of other works within the same niche.

It doesn’t hurt to try writing outside of your genre, either. I trained in horror for my MFA, yet I’ve found that my poetry and my essays sell more readily. I began writing poetry as an exercise to work on my exposition; my speculative nonfiction writing emerged as a result of writing research papers in graduate school. Moving outside of our comfort zones as writers results in better writing.

Shriek into the Void...

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