Friday, March 05, 2010

writing in your favorite genre (Your Questions continued)

[Marquita Sandefur asks, What's your favorite genre? Are you a writer? Do you write in your favorite genre? If no, why not? If so, do you find it difficult to be original since it's your favorite genre?]

Reading: I really like to read fiction that has stood the test of time--this means a lot of classics that might fall in either the literary or commercial categories. I also like to read new books if I know the author, or if someone sends me a review copy (with my reading list, this is about the best I can manage). I try to read a nonfiction book every now and then--I find I'm never in the mood to pick one up, but then if I make myself, I enjoy it about five times more than most novels. I also read some fantasy--I used to read tons, then took a 15-year hiatus, and last year picked up where I left off. Yum epic fantasy.

Writing: Am I a writer? ...Yeah, inevitably. I mean, I think I probably wrote more than 100,000 words on this blog alone last year. I write other stuff, like book reviews and endlessly re-edited novels. Up until now, all my fiction writing has been pretty much straight literary fiction, much like what I mostly read. But as I've been reading more fantasy, I've been thinking a lot to myself, "You know what would make a great premise for a fantasy world? It they just took..." etc. So I might have to branch out.

Re: is writing in genre difficult? So here's the thing I've noticed lately--perhaps because I've been reading too much. It is very rare to find a theme, motif, plot element, or even sentence I haven't seen somewhere else before. This can be a little crippling--every time I have a good idea, I remember that I read a similar idea in [FILL IN A FAMOUS BOOK OF YOUR CHOICE HERE]. It makes me anxious about how much I may be borrowing, how original my ideas are, and whether I should pursue the project. Do other writers have the same problem?

But I think there's one thing writers can control, where they can force themselves to be original: language. It takes more work to think of a fresh way to say something, but it's also more fun that way. I love thinking of inventive ways to say things, even in places like my diary, where I know no one is ever going to read them.

What about you guys? Do you write in the same genre you read? Or not so much?

31 comments:

WendyCinNYC said...

My reading is much more literary than my writing, which is mainly women's fiction. While I do read quite a bit of WF, my heart lies with the classics. And I LOVE Southern Gothic.

Derek Gentry said...

"It makes me anxious about how much I may be borrowing, how original my ideas are..."

I experience regular attacks of that as well. When I do, I just try to be glad that I'm not writing music. How many different ways can you rearrage twelve notes?

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I read all over the place: classics, literary, general non-fiction, biographies, history, historical fiction, mid-grade (my genre), young adult, poetry, some fantasy, some mystery, and loads of picture books (another thing I write).

For some reason, I don't read a lot of adult commerical.

CKHB said...

I recently took a writing class called "Monsters & Mayhem" (and I blogged about it, if people are interested) because I realized that I read TONS of sci fi, fantasy, and horror, but I've always thought that was something I couldn't do. But why not? Pushing my genre limits was awesome.

My first novel is kind of "literary chick lit"... I'm a chick lit snob (real issues, please, not just shoes) and I wrote something that fits the "I'd want to read it" category.

lynnrush said...

Thanks for this post.

Yep, I read the genre I write most of the time, unless I'm doing a book review or crit for someone outside my genre.

I think I learn from whatever I read. You know? Like, learn things that don't work, things that work well, etc. So, whatever I read, I usually always get something out of it. :-)

Have a great day.

Laurel said...

Originality is way overrated. Even in real life, the same things/problems happen to the people we care about that happen to everyone else but all of a sudden we care about it. Because it's happening to a person we care about.

Most of the books (I can't think of an exception but I'm sure there must be one) that hit have something compelling about the MC and the writer uses POV to really plug us into it. As long as I care about the MC, I'll muddle through even the most pedestrian plot or hackneyed world building.

Laurel said...

P.S.: And after reading your "Words of Wisdom from RtP" a while back...you remember. The one where he stirs creamer into your coffee with his glasses? I have no doubt any character that came out of your fevered brain would be compelling.

faye said...

I think all genre is somewhat arbitrary... it's all about reading experience for me, and a big part of reading experience is style. So maybe two authors have a very similar premise, but one novel reads differently (and more convincingly) than the other--it doesn't matter if the idea was 'borrowed', but it was executed well. Good writing can't be 'borrowed' but only learned - otherwise it's just plagiarism. XD

I can think of one example where "genre" breaks down. I have a friend who doesn't consider The Hunger Games sci-fi (even though to me, it is blatantly sci-fi), because she maintains that Collins did not write THG for a reader of sci-fi. That she didn't give a nod to what sci-fi readers would expect. Which makes me wonder just what sci-fi is, and if it's a purely aesthetic differentiation from fantasy, or if there are certain structural protocols to be followed when writing sci-fi.

I'm glad you're reading more fantasy! Fantasy has been my bread and butter since, well, the beginning, but I'm wondering if I should start reading more literary fiction. I really loved Repeat After Me so if there are more books along those lines, please rec them my way.

I do read a lot of "literary" YA, and actually prefer it with the "literary" label attached, because it means that some attention has been paid to writing as well as story. Maybe that's snobbish of me, but I tend to assume that most fiction published at LEAST has a good idea, and strengths in plot and action.

Frankly, I like all my stories to be written well, regardless of subject matter.

moonrat said...

So interesting! We're a mix.

Derek--yeah, 12 notes. I've thought of that before. Phew, we picked the right medium. At least we have 5,000,000 words to play around with.

Laurel--if only certain fevered characters HAD come from my brain...

Kristan said...

I read pretty widely, both in my genre(s) and outside. The only thing I can't really get into is non-fiction, unless it's of the memoir/creative non-fic variety. (And in fairness I've never tried erotica.)

I think it's good for a writer to know what's being done/not being done in the area(s) they want to write, and to learn about what's being done/not being done outside their area(s) so they can see what (if anything) to bring in.

"It makes me anxious about how much I may be borrowing, how original my ideas are, and whether I should pursue the project. Do other writers have the same problem?"

Yes, I think we inevitably do. After so many thousands of years, most human stories have been told. And I think that's okay, because like you said, there are things (like language, or technological elements, or whatever) that can personalize or update a story, and make it more unique or more relevant to the times.

What's not okay is straight-up plagiarism, but that's pretty hard to do unintentionally.

Claire Dawn said...

I'm like Caroline. I read all over the place. But lately I seem to right all over the place too.

Hope to settle into a genre soon.

Anonymous said...

I tried to write in a genre I hadn't read before. It did not go well...

jim

Rebecca Knight said...

This is fascinating! :)

I love classic sci fi, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, fantasy (especially YA fantasy), and just recently discovered I like women's fiction like Lisa Dale's books :). I also read horror.

I do non-fiction from time to time, but it has to be on a topic I'm dying to know about at the time, so it varies wildly!

fshk said...

I have read all over the place, mostly literary/mainstream fiction, and I like nonfiction, especially history and cultural criticism. Although lately, I have been reading mostly genre fiction, and my favorite genres are mystery and romance. Which should make it less surprising that my first published novel was romantic suspense.

I agree that you have to read in the genre you write in, if only so you're aware of what trends are, what common tropes are, etc. I'm always kind of surprised by people who write, say, a vampire novel without ever having read any urban fantasy.

Bernita said...

I write urban fantasy but read more straight fantasy.

Dana King said...

I read mostly crime fiction, and write almost exclusively crime fiction. I'm of the school that themes, motifs, plot elements have been pretty well examined over the years. I'm less concerned with doing something no one has ever done than I am with doing it in my own way, and making that unique.

writeidea said...

Good question. Because my reading taste is very eclectic, I don't think I write in the genre I read. If I did, I'd write some kind of contemporary noir woman's fiction with Urban Fantasy elements. Or maybe magical realism with urban noir science fiction elements. And a dash of Jane Austen thrown in for good measure.

Oops. My brain just exploded.

Cid said...

I read a lot of different things, and I believe my writing and inspiration is just as varied. Currently I'm working on a semi-epic fantasy novel, researching for a religious project, and I have outlines and plans for writing a romance and partnering for a possible graphic novel. Sometimes I worry that my too-wide-spread interests prevent me from doing any one thing good enough. But I think before I get good enough I need to learn what it is I'm doing - so everything I do now is "practice".

Tawna Fenske said...

I'm a total slut for reading, and will read anything from trashy erotica to literary classics.

What I love to write, however, is my very favorite kind of book to read (what I wish there were more of in the world if only Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich could quintuple their output). I adore quirky, offbeat romantic comedy, sometimes with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Love the blog, and I'm totally digging the Q&A thing!

Tawna

minervaK said...

I read in almost every genre, but I write mysteries, or things close to mysteries. I actually think it's easier to write in a genre I like, although I agree that avoiding unintentional deja vu is challenging (there's nothing new under the sun, Horatio). One thing I have noticed, though, is that writing in the mystery genre has made reading in the mystery genre more difficult -- I'm entirely too critical of writers in my own genre. I try to keep it to myself, though.

Lee Ee Leen said...

yessir, I write in the same genres I love to read.

Stephen King said that the magic moment for a writer is when you are in the middle of reading something and you think, 'THis sucks and it was published- *I* can do better!'

still working on that moment for now heh

roseduncan said...

I actually wrote three mysteries long after I read mysteries, all published. What was the first question someone asked me whenever I did a reading? What mystery writers do you read? Ugh, well ... I had gone through a phase where I read everyone, but that was years before, so I basically did my best, and talked about the few I'd read, my friends who were mystery writers and the legendary mystery writers whose work I'd loved back when. Now I'm writing a literary novel, which is basically what I read, and god is it hard, so much much much harder.

Pamala Knight said...

OMG, I have the "I've just borrowed that sentence/paragraph/theme/plot from FILLINTHEBLANKGREATWORKOFLITERATURE all the time!! Does it hinder me and my perfectionist tendencies?? Absolutely.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Most of my writing is about my work and by association my life, but I don't read a lot of mind body spirit. I don't read scifi, chick lit, or romances. I browse poetry. I don't read enough, and have to make time to do so. This annoys me.

_*rachel*_ said...

There's nothing new under the sun, right? Don't worry about stealing ideas. (Thanks for making me hunt that article down--it's a gem.)

Sometimes a classic theme strikes a chord--it's not a shame to use it.

Though there are some ideas that you might want to reconsider or even consider.

Christi Goddard said...

My reading tastes are eclectic. Sometimes I want only the classics, and sometimes I will read all of Dean Koontz over again. I don't write like the classics or Koontz (sheesh, I wish), but write urban fantasy.

As I write, I constantly consider if it is similar in any way to something I've seen before, and instead of changing it a bit, I go the OCD route and make it practically opposite. In fact, I should just call my book, 'The Book of Opposite Fantasy' since I really took the 'it can't be like others' to a whole new level. :-)

I avoid cliche as often as possible as well, though I do have the stereotype mentor (two, in fact: one jovial and cryptic and the other a mysterious sourpuss) and the awkward, socially-inept, reluctant hero, but that's because we all like our heroes to be flawed. Perfect heroes are annoying and false. Then, to really make his life hell, I gave him an impossible task. He can't win, won't win, but it's the journey, not the destination, right? (Go, Aerosmith)

joelle said...

I do write in the genre I read (YA). By the way, I've found that nonfiction is usually way more interesting on audio! I listened to a lot of things I know I'd never read and really enjoyed them. Anyway, what you brought up about original ideas and fresh ways to tell it brings me to mind of a discussion I've been having with some Grade 6&7 readers. We meet to talk about what books we're reading each week. I had read DANI NOIR by Nova Ren Suma and I told them that what makes it so special is the way it's told. We all agreed that the actual topics are tried and true: Parents divorce, father has new wife & family, best friend moves away and ignores her...in fact, if you summarize it, it sounds like a lot of books you've read, starting way back with Judy Blume. But three of us have read it and all agree, Suma does such an excellent job giving it a fresh angle (using noir film) and great characters, it works and it's wonderful. It can be done!

Kristi said...

The one genre I've probably read the most of is historical romance. I once gave away over 100 fat historical romance paperbacks that I'd read to death (that was about 10 years ago, so the body count has climbed substantially). And in my writing, so far, I've tried contemporary (short and long), futuristic/sci fi, suspense (contemporary), and fantasy.

I think I'm scared to try my a historical because I'm chicken that my attempt will utterly suck.

Roninjoey said...

Christi, I have to ask, in the end, does he win anyway? :P

The sheer volume of fiction (and non) out there is daunting, but the more you read, particularly if you're prone to reading a lot of books in the same genre, the more you realize how well traveled the writing path really is in terms of plots. I like to think that if you read eclectically and A LOT, which I do, your creative mind will be informed by so many different sources you won't be able to help but develop a personal voice and relatively original take on telling a story.

Like The Hunger Games, which Faye brought up. The author took a fairly traditional plot, stole the twist from Stephen King (or Japan, if you've seen Battle Royale), and voila: terrific YA fiction.

I think it's important to be open minded to lots of different kinds of fiction, whether it's silly fantasy, difficult translated literature, etc.

So I think I write in the genre I read, which is to say, I'll read pretty much anything if it's a good, well regarded book, and hopefully that's what I'll end up producing myself!

hampshireflyer said...

Writing in a genre I didn't read in would feel absolutely bizarre. Over and above 'what if I fill my work full of clich├ęs and don't realise', every genre is going through a conversation with itself... I don't feel I can say I belong to a genre unless I've at least taken the time to listen.

Watery Tart said...

I love the classics and literary fiction and don't quite have the writing chops for all that. I also love fantasy and don't quite have the imagination. I DO though read the mainstream and suspense stuff I tend to write, too. So I guess I read a mix of what I write and what I ASPIRE to write.