So, I was sitting in the snack bar at the hockey rink last Saturday, waiting for my son’s game to begin. Normally I would be catching up with the other hockey moms, or hanging out with my daughter. But my daughter was off doing teenager-y stuff and my hockey mom-friends were, I guess, running late. So what’s a girl to do with say a half hour of free time on her hands? Well, I pulled out a book and read, of course! But what I was reading may not have been so logical apparently. The conversation I had with one of my hockey mom- friends a few minutes later went something like this:
“Why are you reading that?” my hockey mom-friend asks, disturbing my bliss, laughing like my book has three heads growing out of the pages. (It didn’t. It wasn’t a fantasy book, duh.) I look at the cover, forgetting I’m reading a middle grade book—with a bright purple cover no less.
“Oh, I read middle grade books all the time—you know that well, um I’m a writer? Well, this is the age group I write for, so it’s sort of like research I guess.”
“Yes. It helps to have a feel for middle grade language and tone and voice….” my own voice trails off.
“Oh, okay. Doesn’t it feel like you’re copying the ideas in there?”
“No! I’m not actually trying to copy what’s in the book. It helps to immerse (is that a word?) yourself in the head of middle school kids so you can write in language that appeals to them. You know, write in age appropriate style.”
“Oh, I get it.”
I bet she doesn’t. Conversation stops until I change the subject. Yeah. See, that happens to me all the time. Can you relate? So, even though my non- writer friends and family (except for my supportive husband and kids, who live amongst the chaos of MG and YA books) don’t understand why I spend my free time on purpose reading books in my genre…I still do it.
I do it because I genuinely like these books. If I didn’t, I really shouldn’t be writing them. And neither should you or any other writer. Reading books in the genre you write is essential to writing an authentic story. Through reading, not only will you learn the proper language of your audience, but also proper pacing and dialogue. I read mostly contemporary middle grade books and now speculative fiction or light fantasy stories because that’s what I write. It helps me to know my target audience and to know them well. It feels like I gain a better understanding of the genre with each book I write.
Just last weekend, I read a fabulous debut middle grade novel by Jen Malone, AT YOUR SERVICE. Not only was the story fun and well written, it taught me a bit more about voice. (Yeah, voice…uggh). In case you missed it, my Monday post this week was about voice and a trick you can do to find yours. Well, that trick came to me after reading that book! Chloe’s voice is everywhere throughout the story. And it got me thinking. What if Chloe weren’t so Chloe-ish? What if she weren’t so capable? How would she talk? How would she act given her circumstances? In essence, I gained a better understanding of the skill of voice by reading in my genre.
I also recommend reading across genres. A lot can be learned from reading a mystery novel for instance. Plotting needs to be precise in those books. I mean how Rebecca Stead created the puzzle that is WHEN YOU REACH ME, I will never know. I can merely just kiss the ground she walks on when she walks by me (sometime). Let’s not even talk about the mad world- building skills of J.K. Rowling. I’ve been practicing my curtsey for years on the oft chance I will run into her (someday). It’s also a good idea to read in other age groups too, thank goodness, like YA. THE HUNGER GAMES is one of my favorites and taught me how important it is to have big stakes in your story.
So there you have it. If you’re a writer, I give you permission to read as much as you want, especially in the genre in which you write. It will make you a better writer and you’ll feel like you’re on an adventure while you’re doing it. How great is that? Looking for suggestions? Check out the To Be Read or Book Nook– Middle Grade or YA tabs. I’ve added some new titles to the pages. I know, I know. The YA page is a little bare. I’ve been so bad about updating it. I do have more titles to add to it though and I will try my best to get on that this week. Thank you again for stopping by my site. I hope it’s been a worth- it use of your time! Have a fantastic end of the week and weekend. Hopefully many of those days will even include one of your new favorite books!