creative writing

Should a writer read only in the genre they write in?

I’ve read about and talked to many writers who read mostly in the genre they write in. Actually, most people read primarily in one genre where they find the reading comfortable and enjoyable. They know what to expect.

People should read what they want (although I would challenge them to read different types of stories). I try to read in different genres. I enjoy the diversity of style and form found in stories written for audiences with opposite tastes than mine. Such as romance, horror, and other genres I normally do not seek out and read (nothing racist, dehumanizing, overly violent, etc.). I may not write in these other genres, but I think it helps with my writing.

I feel more capable at providing contrasting viewpoints to my plots and characters. To me, I add depth and strength to what I write after reading a novel outside the genre I’m writing in. As an example, if I’m writing a science fiction story, I read a romance book. How many people know that romance books have happy endings?

This can also be a good technique for grant writers. Sometimes, it’s good to stop writing the proposal and read a horror book. After all, I feel I’m in a horror show when trying to complete a long, detailed grant request.

A creative writer or grant writer should experience reading outside their comfort zone to add variety to what they are trying to write. Sometimes this change can mean publication or funding for a nonprofit.

Who are the Characters in a Story

Every story has characters. They may not be human, but they should have human traits. Also, there has to be at least two characters in the story. Stories with one character are not stories, but monologues. You can have one person talking in a story, but they should talk about other characters.

Characters do not have to be people. They can be things, animals, vegetables – as long as they act with human traits and can express thoughts and feelings in a way that people can have empathy with. They also need to be put somewhere, in some type of environment, that affects how they feel and helps define them as characters.

After settling on who the characters are and where they exist, there has to be some type of challenge to them. This could be a conflict with other characters, the need to achieve one or more goals, or a combination of these.

From here, a story improves when the writer adds depth by layering and expansion of the characters, where they exist, and their challenge. The best way to do this is through relationships either between the characters, their environment, their quest, or a combination of these.

Another way to provide depth and layering is for the characters to have something in common that drives them apart, have them as opposites that makes them the same, or they transform the other from good to bad or vice versus.

While two characters are the minimum in a story, there can be too many characters. The number depends on the length of the story (less in a short story, more in a novel). I learned from readers over the years that, when a story has too many characters, the reader struggles to figure out who is who (certainly me).

No story is a story without characters.

Learning is Forever

Writing is putting letters into words, extending the words into sentences, and ending it all in a series of paragraphs. Hopefully, so it all makes sense. Like I try to do with this blog each week. Writing is certainly not an easy thing to do.

A lot of things are not easy for me to do, but with writing I take the time to learn how to do it better. The more I learn, the easier it seems to get (or it appears to me that way). I think it is the same with any skill.

To learn how to write better, a person needs to make the decision they want to write better. This goes back to a previous blog post about motivation. A person, on their own, should want their writing to be understood by as many readers as possible.

This means a writer should continually learn the craft of writing. Just like construction workers adapting to new regulations and tools, a writer must keep up with the latest trends and technology. This is what makes writers successful. This is what stops writers from being understood.

As an example, some still put two spaces after a period, do not accept the Oxford comma, and use gender speech incorrectly. They do not accept that long paragraphs are out, white space on a page is in, and everything must be mobile ready. While they may have learned writing rules using a computer, that may have been twenty years ago.

Keeping up with the latest writing trends and technology makes writing even harder. Yet, like any craft, if a person has motivated themselves to be better, it would be easy to keep up.

I have a few words to avoid

Every writer, I think, has the habit of using two or three words way too many times. For me, it is “but,” “really,” and “just.” I have been fortunate to realize this and either avoid them or take them out when I don’t avoid them. But, they really are just unnecessary.

Just like starting a sentence using “and” or “then” either separately or together. It is rare these words are ever needed like this. If a writer thinks they are needed to introduce the sentence, they should rewrite the sentence.

I could explain this more, but I try to avoid the word “because,” because things should be explained without saying, “Here’s the explanation.”

I try to not start too many sentences with “The.” Many sentences do not need to be addressed that formally. The introduction of people, events, or other incidents should already be there waiting to take action.

Finally, each paragraph should not begin with the same word. At least, not more than twice in a row. Paragraphs should be unlike their past and future selves.

This is all about different word choices. Use a diverse culture of words to be inconsistent. That is the story of creative writing. Writers write a story with a plot in mind and it is the use of word variety that makes it readable.

P.S. I ended my book without the performance. I wrote the chapter and it looked like it was screaming to get it out of there. It fit in perfectly as the introduction into the second book that I was trying to avoid writing.