When I started writing my first novel, a fantasy, two years ago, I realized how little of the genre I had actually read. I see this as both a blessing and a curse. A genre writer’s fans expect certain conventions to be followed, while at the same time they expect to read something new. I have no idea how original my novel’s story is in the world of fantasy, and part of me thinks the less I know about what’s already out there, the better.
That’s only a small part of me, though.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying multiple books about writing, it’s that all writers must read, as much as they can, in their genre as well as other genres. It’s the only way to improve your writing. Writers need to see how their peers work the craft–the good and the bad. I’ve come to believe this is essential. My work improved dramatically just from reading a few new fantasy books.
Clarification: Of course I have read Tolkien’s works. This is fantasy 101, and would have been inexcusable if I hadn’t read it. I also have a lot of experience with fantasy role playing games (dice-based and video games), comic books, and fantasy movies. I’ve also read a few other fantasy books here and there, some of which I will talk about in later posts, because some are overlooked gems. Having said that, how could I possibly expect to call myself a fantasy writer if I hadn’t read A LOT of fantasy works, especially the current ones and the long-time fan favorites?
My “to-read” list is long. I work full time, have a wife and two small children, and write on the side. That doesn’t leave a lot of reading time, so I get through that list slowly. I finally got to the current heavy-hitter, George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series, about 9 months ago. I am now 1/3 through A Dance with Dragons, book five and the series’ latest volume. While I am glad I have read these, I am, in a word, fatigued.
Who wouldn’t be? I’ve read over 3500 pages in one series alone! It is immense: hundreds and hundreds of characters in dozens of locations throughout a highly detailed world. Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of one of the several dozen major characters, and each successive book adds more of them. It’s a lot to keep track of, hence the fatigue. Worse, the series isn’t even finished! Martin has more volumes to go. Who knows when or if he will finish in his lifetime?! Whenever I read book six, how much will I remember of the previous five? I’m complaining a bit, but overall I have found the series to be very satisfying, compelling, and well worth the investment of my time. These are truly great novels. I’m just ready to read something else now.
After finishing A Dance, I’ll read a few single-volume novels. Then the next series I plan to read is Steven Erickson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen. The good news is I know the series has an ending. The bad news is that it is a ten-volume series totaling almost 11,000 pages. I wonder if I should stagger it with another series, to battle against the fatigue. Anyone else tackle series-reading this way?
Oh, did I mention my first novel is the first of a planned series of four books?