I write mysteries. I enjoy reading mysteries. Therefore, logic would seem to dictate that I should read more mysteries to make my mystery writing better. Or should I?
Immersing yourself in your genre is a good thing. Except when it isn’t. It’s market research, it’s keeping up with the competition, it’s enjoyable. But maybe that isn’t always such a good thing.
Confused yet? Good. So am I.
See, I have this funny little issue. Call it a hang up, a theory, a sneaking suspicion, call it whatever you will, but it’s so deeply ingrained in my brain that I can’t seem to get around it. I believe that what you read influences what you write. Not necessarily a bad thing, except when it is.
You see, sometimes I read books with incredible plots, but less than stellar writing. Less often I read incredibly beautiful prose that seems to go nowhere in terms of plot. Just one beautifully worded sentence after another slowly circling the drain. I wouldn’t want my writing influenced too much by either of these examples, but I’m convinced that, unconsciously, it will. What you’re reading is reflected in your writing, and the last thing I want is for someone to read my work and tell me, “Hey, this is a lot like — fill in name of book I read while writing said work –.”
So, while I’m actively writing a mystery novel, I do not read mystery novels. I’ll read non-fiction or classics or ‘modern literature’. From time to time I’ll even dip my toe in the pool of horror. And for a real treat, (because I tend to get itchy if reading starts to feel like work), I’ll read mystery short stories.
Short stories are fantastic for influencing different aspects of your story’s structure. Few full length books can keep up the suspense of a short story. They’re also written ‘tighter’ – there’s not as much room for superfluous information. Short stories are also less likely to keep you (me) busy reading during writing time, and I personally find the frequent payoffs (endings, climaxes, culminations, solutions), to be great confidence boosters. The only thing is that, occasionally, you’ll encounter a short story that is so strange, so weird, so disturbing, so innovative, that for whatever reason, it haunts you. Which is sometimes a wonderful thing. (I’m weird, I know.)
Then, it’s time to edit, and I go back to reading whatever I want!!!
How much thought do you put into what you’re reading while you write? Are you more careful about what you read when you’re writing, or editing?