I went to the San Francisco Writers’ Conference this past weekend and had a great time. Picked up some new useful tips, met some other writers, and got an invite to send the first three chapters of my book to an agent on my wish-list when it’s ready. So I am super stoked! I ran into a guy there, fairly young, who had written a fantasy novel. I think just finishing a manuscript from beginning to end is deserving of praise. But what threw me off is though he’d written a fantasy novel, he’d never read one.
My head exploded a little. Is it possible to write a good genre book without reading the genre? I’m sure it is. Is it probable? Not really.
Without reading the genre you’re writing, how do you even know if your book fits there on the shelf? You don’t know what people are buying, or what things have been done before – to death (*cough* vampires *cough*). Yes, you can have a fresh new take, but how do you even know if your take is fresh if you haven’t read its precursors?
Usually people do this the other way around – they read a genre they enjoy and then decide to have their own go at it.
So here’s a suggestion, one that’s worked well for me. Read a lot of books in the genre you’re writing in. Take notes on the things you really liked and things that you didn’t think worked. When you go to write your own novel, you’ll have a list of things that you may want to include in your own book, and things you want to avoid.
Here’s a snippet of my notes from Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy:
-Legendary characters that other characters hear about then actually pop up in person later -Keep making situations worse and worse – how is the character going to get out of this? Then think of a way to get the character out. -Bargains made earlier that come back to haunt -Rising sense of dread that the characters can’t pin down, then follow-up with the reveal