Friday, July 24, 2009

books & films: do you genre hop for fun?

Earlier today, Dear Spouse and I were strategizing our line-up for Netflix. We’ve just finished watching Frost/Nixon and The International, with Blindness up on deck, so he suggested we get something lighter next time. I moved Confessions of a Shopaholic to the top of the queue. Both of us have the same habit when it comes to movies and books: we genre hop, leapfrog style.

As a writer, I don’t always have the leisure of switching genres. Yes, I write fiction and poetry, but within those areas my work lines up in similar manners. Regardless of if I am writing for adults or the YA audience, my style is still my style; in poetry, my voice is always my voice. While I never want to be predictable, I don’t stray too far from my roots.

When it comes to reading books and watching movies, however, my tastes vary widely and I enjoy going from one extreme to the next. My husband does this in reading, mostly because he reads about 50-60 books a year. Maybe he’ll read two crime thrillers in a row, but he’ll make a point of picking a satire the next time and then a light drama after that. He does this to ‘keep the genres fresh’ and to not mix up characters or plots, but also to keep from being bored.

I do the same thing with what I read. I’ll go from reading a small press poetry book to a best-selling household name drama to an easy breezy summer read. It allows for the unexpected, keeps things interesting, and usually provides enough variety for my writing brain that when I get back to working on my own material, I feel refreshed.

Of course, there are some who prefer the tried-and-true, whatever that may mean to them. I have heard readers say they only read sci-fi. Or they only read thrillers. Then there are folks who only watch comedies or dramas or spy flicks. We all have our preferences, but I find it interesting when I hear about someone “only” being interested in one finely defined genre. I think there are so many great stories out there – in print and in film – that I would be afraid of missing something if I limited myself from such pleasures.

Yes, in writing I keep to a certain realm within my chosen genres that work with my style and voice, but as an audience member or reader? I want to enjoy it all. And by letting each of them take turns – now a mystery, then a family drama, next a silly comedy – I appreciate each one for its own style and open myself to discovering something new.

What about you? Do you read only certain genres of books? Do you narrow down your movie options to one or two categories? Or do you watch all kinds of films and read books from all areas of the bookstore? If you’re a writer, how does enjoying genres different from your own enhance your own creativity?


  1. This branding, genre and categories thing is one I’ve kinda been struggling with. I’d like to write cross-genre books…A thriller one time, a contemporary love story the next, historical fiction after that.

    Indeed, my first book was contemp love story. My second...not yet found a action/adventure.

    But, it seems that’s not what the business side of publishing and agents want to see. Apparently a writer has to find a niche and get into it.

    It seems series of books is a great way to tell a publisher or agent that you’re going to be around for a bit. But, and I mean no disrespect to the many, many fine series writers…that’s kind of limiting. Same characters, same interplay, same, well….same. Not so fun to write.

    Now, of course, this is from a guy who has never written a series. So, what do I know?

    I’m just saying, from a logic and reasoning perspective…it feels that way.

    Best regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  2. I try to read a little bit of everything. I read more YA than anything else (to make up for when I was a teenager and reading Faulkner), but I read all genres in YA, and try to supplement with a good sampling of things for adults, too. I find myself typically preferring some genres over others, but always try to avoid ruling out an entire type of book.

    I think you're right though--whenever I hear people declare that they ONLY read [chick lit, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi] or NEVER read [chick lit, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi], I can't help but feel sorry for them. They're missing out!

  3. Galen, you make some really good points. From the publishing standpoint, I can understand why editors want to see consistency from a writer in order to maximize branding and marketing efforts to draw in readers. From an artistic viewpoint, I want to be able to feel free to pursue storylines that speak to me – regardless of genre. It’s a delicate balance.

    There are a number of authors who successfully transition from one niche to the next, so it is possible. There are also some authors – like Erica Orloff - who choose to write with various pen names in order to help distinguish markets. That works if a writer is terrifically prolific and can keep up each area. For someone who writes one book every few years, an editor would be hesitant if that writer came out with something completely opposite each time.

    But I’m like you in that one time a story will lean more toward one genre and the next will transition into something else, but I think the key is in maintaining your voice. You keep your voice honest, consistent and compelling…readers will follow no matter where you take them.

    Thanks for some great points, Galen!

  4. Kiersten, we have something in common! I swear I read more YA now than I did as a youngster. So many adults embrace YA books now, though, so it’s not surprising. Maybe we’re all trying to relive a past that never happened. Ha!

  5. I read and watch a wide variety of books and movies. For me it's about characters and story, and I love seeing all the different expressions of both. I don't read romance (any more) or watch really violent movies. Everything else is fair game. I think it all feeds my muse, who has very eclectic tastes.

  6. Hi Deb!

    I agree about it coming down to story and characters. While I'm not necessarily a fan of sci-fi or westerns, I can appreciate a good storyline and intriguing characters. So I don't limit myself to choices based on genre; I hope to find interesting stories to appreciate as a reader and film-goer. You're exactly right - the muse feeds off of everything and anything, and usually in times we least expect it. It's good to keep our minds open to new experiences.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. For me it's all about mood, and that goes for what I'm reading, watching, or listening to.
    I have a couple of books on the go in my e-reader, because sometimes I need a few chapters of humour or romance, at other times I've had enough sleep & coffee to digest something more intense. The same can be said for movies and music. I couldn't tell you at 8 am what movie I will want to watch at 10 pm. I might wake up with an alt rock song in my head and put on classical after supper.
    Go with the flow!

  8. Karla, that's so true. Our moods dictate so much!

    I know there's been a time or two when I when I finally get around to pick up a book I have been aching to read - only to realize I am not in the mood for that type of story at the moment. While I used to have a 'finish policy' (as in, can't start a new book until I finish reading the current one), I now go with the flow and sometimes have two or three books on the go. Like you said, you never know what mood will determine the book choice or movie for the day.

    Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the coffee...