What you read feeds what you write

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Reading is some of the writer’s best instruction on craft, but your taste in stories can also tell you a lot about where your writing passion lies. In choosing a path for fiction, writers can travel the commercial route of genre, with its familiar formulas, or explore the mystery of literary styles.

Janet Burroway explains in her book Writing Fiction: A Narrative Guide to the Craft that how a reader prefers their story endings can offer a clue to what kind of fiction style resonates with a writer:

Literary fiction differs from genre fiction fundamentally in the fact that the former is character-driven, the latter plot driven. There is a strong tendancy… of genre fiction to imply that life is fair, and to let the hero or heroine, after great struggle, win out in the end; and of literary fiction to posit that life is not fair, that triumph is partial, happiness tentative, and that the heroine and hero are subject to mortality.

Put another way, a happy ending fits better with the genre writer and reader. A fine tradition of powerful books come out of the genre fields: science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery. Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn series of mysteries stand out among my genre reading. On the other end of the scale lie books like Empire Falls by Richard Russo, or The Human Stain, by Phillip Roth. If a bittersweet or ambiguous ending fits your style of story, literary styles might call your muse — more of an indie movie finish than a Hollywood studio ending.

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