Every writer hears it over and over again, “Read.” If you want to become a better writer, read, read, read. Typically, though, most writers primarily read from the types of books they wish to write. Mystery writers read mysteries. Thriller writers read thrillers and so on. It’s natural and necessary to do this because only through reading a specific genre do you learn that genre’s rules. However, there’s another aspect to the read, read, read that is often overlooked.
In short, that aspect is every other type of book.
Even if you write mysteries, you can benefit from reading other genres as well as nonfiction. Other genres provide insight into alternative ways of handling the various aspects of writing like tension, plot, character, and conflict. Seeing other genres’ techniques expands upon your own.
But what about nonfiction? Despite its lack of plots, characters, and conflicts, nonfiction can widen our perspectives and fill our pools of inspiration.
Right now, in preparation for training our two new Border Collie/German Shepherd mix puppies, I’m pouring through dog training books I checked out from the library. They span the gamut from Cesar Millan the Dog Whisperer himself to dog language and a book on the specific breed. At the same time, I’m helping one of my children through an art book on drawing faces. At first glance, neither of these books would benefit me as a speculative fiction writer, but the truth is they hold a wealth of inspiration and insight.
For example, as a dog lover, I enjoy occasionally slipping in a dog as a character. In a WIP (work in progress) that’s currently in the final editing stage before I send it off to agents and editors, my hero has a dog companion. Growing up with dogs, I can write them with some finesse. I’ve watched and played with them often enough. I know the pleasure of having a dog who adores you. However, these dog training books have given me a much deeper understanding of dogs and inspired me to return to that WIP with an eye toward deepening the dog companion, who by the way is named Dog. When I’m finished, the effort will certainly help the story and, hopefully, my chances of getting it published.
So when you hear the advice to read, don’t limit yourself. Read widely. Read on random subjects. Read on subjects that apply to your current life. Read to broaden your perspectives. Don’t just read your own genre.
What interesting books are you reading or have finished recently outside your chosen genre that have broadened your perspectives?