By reading a lot of novels in a variety of genres, and asking questions, it’s possible to learn how things are done – the mechanics of writing, so to speak – and which genres and authors excel in various areas.” – Nicholas Sparks

It’s been a very interesting last few weeks around my house and things are finally starting to wind down. This is my first post of the New Year and first post of the month so I decided to write about something that has been relevant to me as of late: genre.

I’m presently writing a mystery/thriller. I’m only calling it that because it seems I need to place it under some genre, and by definitions I’ve read, my story seems to be heading that direction. I read a book last year about writing and there was an entire chapter about all the various genres and sub-genres within works of fiction. We tend to compartmentalize everything and I was not surprised to find anything different in the writing world. Looking at the majority of what I have read in the past, most of it would fall under some sub-genre of mystery or thriller. That doesn’t mean I don’t like other genres, it just means mysteries and thrillers are my favorites. Much like hard rock is my favorite music despite listening to everything from Ice Cube to Johnny Cash.

I tend to be that way with most things in life. Mexican food is my favorite but I enjoy most any ethnic food. Action movies? I love them. December however is devoted to both traditional Christmas movies and sappy Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is an inspirational movie called “Rudy” about a kid’s dream of not only attending Notre Dame but playing football there. Another is a silly kid’s movie called “The Goonies.” Neither of those is an action movie but for whatever reason are two of my favorites.

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A few years ago, my oldest son asked me to read Eragon, a book he was reading by a very young author named Christopher Paolini. It’s about a dragon rider and his dragon and I couldn’t honestly say without some research what genre it falls under.  I remember laughing at first, saying a very polite “no, that’s not my thing” and most likely continued reading the next available Daniel Silva or John Grisham book. My son was persistent and before I knew it, I was hooked on The Inheritance Cycle by Paolini, an amazingly well written series by the way for such a young author. Last year, at my son’s urging, I did the same thing with The Hunger Games.

I think if we limit categories in our reading, or listening, or tasting, or watching, we miss out on so much of what it is out there. I’ve thought about that a little over the last month as I read two new books over the Christmas/New Years Holiday. Both books were not in my chosen genre to write in; one a wonderful NA (and no that’s not Narcotics Anonymous) book about vampires and the other a contemporary romance about a second chance romance. Both were wonderful, well written stories by two very talented writers I am lucky to have as friends. Although I read them purely for pleasure, there were takeaways with each, both with style and two different approaches to romantic scenes.

I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone years ago when it came to reading. I do it with everything else in life so it should be no surprise that I’ve done it with reading. I know that reading books in my genre helps make me a better writer within that genre, obviously important with my current project but I’m also convinced reading anything makes me a better writer. It’s a craft, and like most any craft, it can be expanded and improved upon by stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing other genres.

Do I need to pick a genre? For writing, I believe I do but only because I have a grand master plan. For reading? Absolutely not.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite genre to read and/or write?