For aspiring fantasy writers, there’s a lot to gain from reading fantasy. We can learn a lot from the masters like J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, Ursala K. LeGuin (to name a few). But if we as students in the craft of fantasy writing only have a steady diet of fantasy, we could end up being malnourished writers.
If we only consume fantasy, there is a great tendency for us to gravitate towards the ideas that have been overused in the genre. They are the first ideas that come to our head. To move away from the old tropes, we need to move to something else.
A way we can move past the clichés that come so easily to our heads is by looking outside the fantasy and sci-fi genres.
Writer and director Joss Whedon, the guy who directed the Avengers movies, is a big advocate for a multi-genre diet. Although most of the projects that he works on fall into fantasy and science fiction, he reads a lot outside those genres. In one interview, he explained how reading the book entitled Killer Angels, a realistic drama about the civil war in the United States, inspired his creative process.
Joss thought to himself, “What if this story about civil war soldiers took place on the Millennium Falcon?” So he took some ideas from the book Killer Angels and transported them to the science fiction setting of outer space. And this is how he came up with the highly praised cult classic “Firefly,” a TV series about a ragtag crew of smugglers on a space freighter who travel a post-civil war galaxy that resembles the Wild West.
Joss Whedon’s experience shows how looking outside the fantasy and sci-fi genres can give writers fruitful results. The practice pushes the bounds of our creativity and provides fresher material.
So the next time you’re at the bookstore or library, don’t just browse the fantasy section. I highly recommend wandering over to where they keep the non-fiction. (The truth is often stranger than the fiction as they say.) Adding this material to your story diet will only nourish your creativity.
And you may even have a Joss Whedon moment and encounter your next “Firefly.”