Monday, November 12, 2012

Too Close to Home?--Reading Inside Your Own Genre

One of the reasons I have chosen to write historical fiction is because I have always loved reading it. Last year, almost every single book I read was an HF title, and this year I've had to make a conscious effort to branch out in other genres.

In some ways, however, becoming a historical novelist myself has been a double-edged sword when it comes to enjoying other historical novels. On the one hand, it makes me enjoy good historical novels even more. Besides appreciating the stories, I can also better appreciate the craft that went into writing them. On the other hand, it makes me more critical of poor historical novels. I am unable to turn a blind eye to flaws that I have worked hard to avoid in my own writing.

One example of this is my (relatively) new appreciation for narrative voice. After agonizing over whether to use first person or third person narrative in my novels and weighing the pros and cons of each, it gives me greater delight to see other authors use first or third person narrative well. I recently finished reading two of Kate Quinn's books where she changes between multiple first person narrators and some third person narration, and I was awed by the effectiveness of her approach.

Another example is the use of dialogue tags (e.g. he said, she chortled, they moaned). I've started to work harder on giving each of my characters distinct voices and getting rid of superfluous or distracting   dialogue tags. I also work hard on finding a balance between the invisible "said" and the sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb verbs like "guffawed", "reminisced", "interpolated". (M.m. Bennetts had a lovely post a couple months ago on her philosophy of using dialogue tags.) Now, as I read other writers, especially historical novelists, I find myself automatically judging the flow of their dialogue--which leads to either a greater or lesser appreciation for their work.

A third example is in the realm of historical accuracy. I find that I can forgive a lot of liberties in eras I know little about. "What? You completely rearranged the chronology of this Roman emperor's reign? Fine by me--it was a great story!" In eras I have extensively researched, however (i.e. the Middle Ages), I tend to take umbrage over too much manipulation of facts. I especially hate having modern ideas superimposed on this time period. Knowing the history behind a brilliant novel like Anya Seton's Katherine makes me love it immeasurably more. Knowing the history behind a hack job like...well, let's not mention any names...makes me despise it utterly.

As much as I love reading books in my own genre, sometimes I find that I need to move outside it a little bit--not out of historical fiction entirely, but at least, into a different time period. I'm curious--do any other authors feel the same? Do you read books similar to your own, or are they a little bit too close to home?

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