Read Your Competition
(or, turn your leisure time into productivity)
This has to be one of my favourite things about being a writer.
We’re extraordinarily blessed in that our leisure time can easily be considered part of our working time.
What do I mean? Well, while all reading is helpful within the context of writing, we can specifically target novels, movies, tv shows, comic books, etc that are in our chosen genre.
If you’re a horror author, part of your job is to read horror novels, watch horror movies and shows. You have to develop an understanding of the genre, of what readers of that genre expect, of the tools that successful authors in those genres use, and so on.
Readers expect different things in different genres.
If you’re writing science fiction, specifically hard science fiction, readers may be more willing to learn or forgive long passages in which speculative concepts are explained. Try that in a thriller genre, however, and readers are likely to complain.
Literary readers may expect or forgive poetic lines or long philosophical passages. A fantasy author may struggle to get away with the same (although there are writers who have gotten away with it).
Even if you plan on breaking the “rules” of your genre, developing an understanding of what readers expect is important for the success of your writing.
Reading your competition can give you an idea of what you need to know to write it
If you’re writing say, a serial killer novel, some knowledge of law enforcement protocol and forensics will probably be part of the expectation of your readers. How much you need to know depends on the story you want to write, but reading your competition can be a good way to figure out exactly what it is you need to understand, and how.
Reading a fantasy novel like Brandon Sanderson’s, for example—how much goes into the development of the world? Into geography? Into the rules of magic as they apple in that world? If you want to write a multi-novel fantasy series like he does, you’ll probably need to spend an ample amount of time developing and understanding the world you’re creating.
Reading your competition is fun!
Like I said, I consider this one of the best parts of being a writer. Even though you’re not “working” per se, you’re developing an understanding of what it is you want to write and what it is you need to know as you do it. You’re developing an understanding of the genre, of story structure, of the tools you can use to add tension, to adjust pacing, and so on.
You’re working even while you’re relaxing.
You’re a writer.