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Reading Outside Your Genre

By Lisa Jordan

Recently I had a conversation with my sister, who is a language arts teacher at our local middle school, about the importance of reading outside our favorite genres.

She reads a lot of non-fiction, particularly biographies. I read a lot of contemporary romance novels.
Lakeside Redemption
As a happily ever after girl who writes contemporary Christian romances that promise hope and happily ever after to my readers, it’s a struggle to read something other than a great romance novel. Since my reading time is limited due to a demanding day job and an evening writing career, reading outside my genre takes deliberate effort.

If you’re not a reader of romance novels, reading that genre will help you to understand how romance writers take a hero and heroine on a romantic journey from introduction to the promise of a lifetime commitment. Many non-romance writers may feel we write to a formula as all romance novels end with a heart-sighing ending. There’s some truth to that argument, but the joy is in the journey, reading about these characters overcoming their lies and obstacles to embrace truth and being together. Reading romance novels helps us to create realistic relationships that add sympathy to plot-driven novels.

Reading suspense and thriller novels (in broad daylight, for me) help me to understand how those writers create action and tension with their short sentences, planting of red herrings to throw me off from guessing whodunit. I’m becoming a stronger plotter because I’m weaving in the external plot with the internal building of relationships.

One of the things I admire about speculative writers is their incredible ability to create these amazing worlds, languages, and concepts that make you question “What if?” or “Could that really happen?” Reading spec fiction helps me to tap into my senses and setting to add a three-dimensional story world to my novels.

Reading Young Adult keeps me to stay connected with the young adults in my life by appreciating their struggles and what’s meaningful to them in today’s world. When I’m creating young adult characters for my novels, they come across as more authentic and hopefully more appealing to a younger demographic.

Historical novels pull me back into the past ways of life and bring those rich historical events to life by showing what happened through the eyes of unique characters.

Reading outside of your genre enables you to strengthen your writing skills by studying the techniques other writers employ to create rich characters and tight plots. It helps you to improve cognitive abilities by thinking and looking at the elements of story structure in a different way. Additionally, it helps you to develop an appreciation for other styles of writing.

I challenge you to visit ACFW’s Fiction Finder and choose a novel outside of your comfort zone. You may surprise yourself and find a new favorite author!

Your Turn: What genre do you write? What’s your favorite genre to read? What genre will you choose to step outside of your reading comfort zone?

LisaJordan2x3HeadshotRepresented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such, Lisa Jordan is an award-winning contemporary Christian romance author for Love Inspired, writing stories that promise hope & happily ever after. She is the Voices Coordinator for My Book Therapy. Her fourth novel, Lakeside Redemption, releases in January 2015. Visit her at www.lisajordanbooks.com.

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2 Responses to Reading Outside Your Genre

  1. Lisa,
    This is so true. I write historical fiction as well as contemporary. Mine usually have a romance element but its not always the center focus. I read a lot. I love historicals from any era and a good mystery keeps me up at night. Reading outside my genre is always interesting. Recently I picked up Ben Wolf’s Debut novel Blood for Blood. This was way outside my genre comfort zone. A vampire is the main character and he becomes a christian. I loved how Ben took the verse from Psalm 23 He restoreth my soul and wove a compelling story that parallel’s a Christian’s struggle with sin and learning to trust God. I found interesting insights as I read this fantasy. I still tend to lend toward real life stories but as you said you can learn a lot from those who write speculative fiction.

  2. Hi Lisa. I read all over the place, and find that different genres do help me to write romantic suspense. A well-written book inspires me to write better.