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Reading Across Genre

by Willy Doehring, River co-editor

The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.


Before diving into a discussion of genre, I want to begin with a simple question: what is genre?

Merriam-Webster defines genre as: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. While this can be applied to writing in a variety of ways, for now I’ll be focusing on the general genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing.

For years, I defined myself as a writer by my relationship to genre: I wasn’t just a writer but a fiction writer, who didn’t write poetry and was decidedly uninterested in nonfiction. I wasn’t the only one who did this; many of my peers attached themselves to their favored genre of writing, and even my professors became defined in some way by the classes they taught and the medium that they most often worked in.

This isn’t a bad thing by any means, as many great writers identify as poets or playwrights or essayists and so on. Teaching fiction and poetry in different classes makes sense because they focus on different aspects of writing. However, delving too deep into one genre without reading or studying the others can lead to a lopsided kind of understanding of what makes good writing; in other words, reading and studying every genre will make your writing in each individual genre stronger.

This may seem like common knowledge to some, but at the very least I know that it took me years to fully understand and embrace this. After all, I thought, as a fiction writer, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for me to read fiction than to read poetry?

Maybe so, but there’s no reason why the writing techniques emphasized in one genre can’t be applied to another. Some of the best works of fiction succeed because of how meticulously crafted each sentence is; what better way to practice writing on a sentence level (or better yet, on a word level) than to write poetry?

This is just one example, of course; an essayist might read fiction to gain knowledge of writing in scene, a fiction writer might look to dramatic writing to help develop skills of managing plot and timing in a story, and a poet might read nonfiction to better understand how to insert truth into their poems. None of these examples are incredibly in-depth, of course, but they get the idea across. Keeping an open mind and exposing yourself to all kind of writing allows you to pick up on the aspects of writing that each genre highlights.

It’s perfectly normal for a writer to focus on the genre they enjoy or feel most comfortable writing, but its also important not to let that focus turn you away from other genres. As a writer you can learn from every genre, so next time you’re tackling a new idea in your writing consider what stepping out of your comfort zone can do for you!

Writer’s Workshop will be back next week to continue discussing genre (it’s been on my mind a lot, if you couldn’t tell!)— until then, happy writing!


Also, a reminder: The River’s Dramatic Works Contest is still running until the end of the week! All submissions are due on April 8 by midnight EST. We can’t wait to read your work!

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