Reading in Your Genre While Writing
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I'm curious, if you are an author of science fiction novels, do you read science fiction while you are writing a novel? If not, why not? I'd guess fear of plagiarism at least subconsciously. If you do read in the same genre while you write, how do you keep from lifting ideas?
I don't write SF, but I generally stick to reading non-fiction for pleasure while I'm working on a story. I'm not as worried about subconsciously plagiarizing plot points or ideas as I am about unconsciously mimicking someone else's writing style...though I think that eventually, that worry fades when your own voice becomes sufficiently strong and ingrained.
I do write SciFi, and I have no problem reading SciFi while I also write. I think that if what I was reading was in any way similar, it could become a problem. So far, however, my story lines in my 6 books and characters are somewhat unique, and I haven't had a problem.
I read more nonfiction, mostly history, than any other type of book. My genre reading is down to a few favorite authors, and I devour them so quickly that it would hardly matter if I happened to be writing in that genre at the time or not.
I'm a fantasy author, but don't read a huge amount of fantasy. A small part is because of the possible influence, subconscious or otherwise, but mainly I find it more useful as a writer to read as broadly as I can. Plus there's always the danger of making your genre book too generic if you limit your scope to only those books (and can turn your own into more of an homage to a genre's tropes than an original work in its own right).
In the beginning I did avoid reading or re-reading my collection of sci-fi for fear of unconscious plagiarism. I also tuned out of the Syfy channel and avoided some really good movies. Now I've gotten myself so far out into my own ectometaverse that I would be quite surprised to meet anyone too familiar there. I'm re-reading Tolkien now, and there are no Hobbits on Kakakafaloong. As for style, I've developed my own as well and I have finally stopped agonizing over my deviations from Warriner's rules of grammar. Although, not completely since my wife is an English teacher. If you are asking as a new writer, I would say just dive in to what you are creating as deeply as possible and you may find you don't have all that much time to read other works anyway.
I don't read as much when I'm writing, but that's more due to time constraints than anything else.
While I don't turn to too much crime fiction while I am writing, I do find that certain authors promote the right/write mood ... especially if things aren't going well. Yes, I do worry about being influenced by their voice but, as a previous contributor says, it's your own voice that's soon in the driving seat.
I had a thought (no, really, I did!). I believe I know why some people don't read a lot of material in the genre they write.
We are writing books we want to read and that might mean we aren't easily finding them in the books that are out there.
Oh, zette, that is profound and so true. I do love to read books in my genre, but I have a very hard time finding books in my genre that I truly love. They are rare, unless, of course, I am reading my own stories. smiling
I write historical fiction and do read some, but not my time period, when I'm writing. I'm usually reading non-fiction/research while writing the first draft. Fiction will creep in when I'm further along. As to zette's comment, I can find lots of HF that I enjoy, but I like to write in less popular time periods and about lesser known people BECAUSE they are less popular and less known. Why write the 10,000th book on the Tudors? Oh, right, the money.
I don't tend to change my reading habits when I'm writing, if anything finding the time amidst the project in progress is always the difficult thing rather than sitting down to read.
I've never seen any reason to not read in the genre I'm writing. I won't say that what I read doesn't seem to influence my writing at all, but it does take time for me to absorb it, tear it to pieces, examine the pieces, decide what I think of them, and attach them to different ideas. The things that influence *this* book are things I read two or more years ago, not things I am reading now.
And by the time I'm done making stuff into a story nobody knows where I got it from anyway (including, usually, me.) :)
I used to moderate a fantasy/SF critique group, so of course I was reading and writing in the same genre. After all, the other members of the group shared their fantasy/SF novels with me.
I don't think any of us ever influenced one another, although it did bug me when I saw the words "Down, down, down" in a friend's manuscript. (Repetition is kind of my thing, but...I guess it's a good influence. I have "Down, down, down" in one manuscript and "Up,up, up" in another. It's a quirky style choice inspired by Jewish prayer, where repetition is very common and has a nice affect, kind of like beating out a hypnotic rhythm.)
I can tell you that four of us have written ghost stories at some time, and each one is amazingly different from the other. One is a kind of spy thriller. One is romantic horror. One is a children's book about growing up. And mine is a sweet, charming romance about undying love. Sometimes there's an influence, but it doesn't mean you end up writing like the other person. Sometimes it just makes you more aware of how you would do it differently.
I agree with LShelby. I write fantasy and I read any and everything, in and out of my genre, before, after and during the times I spend working on a project.
I think that sometimes there's too much of a negative connotation placed on being influenced by those who came before us. If you're inspired by other authors, be inspired. That's an awesome thing! There's nothing wrong with that at all.
Just to clarify: No. I don't advocate theft. But some of us have forgotten that there's a difference between being inspired and outright theft. Theft is when authors steal directly without changing enough elements of a piece to make it their own and then trying to hide the fact that they're pawning someone else's material as their own. That's plagiarism.
Most of the time, you know when you're lifting ides. So when you realize it, either delete it or shape it into something that's 100% your style. And if it just so happens to innocently slip by you and someone calls you out on it, so what. Everything is a remix. Own up to it and write another story. You're a writer. Keep it moving.
There's no such thing as NOT lifting ideas. Everyone of us is writing something that in some capacity has been written about before. You're being consciously and subconsciously influenced by every single story you experience. Your brain filters out the undesirable stuff and keeps the good stuff. Any creator of things that protests otherwise is simply not being realistic.
But don't fret about this. This is precisely the reason why you're able to write such awesomesauce stuff! The key is to put your personal touch on everything you do. No one can write about elves or wizards or vampires the way that you do. I'm certain everyone in this thread is already doing just that and has nothing to worry about.
The stories of the world are just one giant stew and we're merely tasting what's on the stove and then adding in our secret ingredients until the stew suits our personal liking.
A confident writer intentionally incorporates ideas from other authors and is not afraid to say, "Yes. I was influenced by that wonderful author. If you're reading and enjoying my stuff, check them out too because they are much more awesome than me."
I do read in my genre areas - historical fiction and literary - while working on a project. There are so many authors out there who inspire/inspired me, so much better than me, so many to learn from.
I read everything (very avidly cross-genre reader), though I do try to cut back when I'm really focused on writing. I think reading itself can open a writers mind to different ways to write, view and experience their own work; can give you a different perspective, inspire you creatively and at times, I've found, make you WANT to write when you're frankly exhausted of hearing your own voice lol My 2 cents. :)
While writing my historical novel, I stayed away from reading fiction close to my subject matter -- 1775, the American Revolution. From time to time I needed to escape hearing my own voice, as JessicaC said, needing instead to read excellent fiction hoping that it would inspire me. During the last stages of the editing process, I deliberately reread two authors I especially esteem, looking to see how they handled writing problems I was having.
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