I’ve mentioned before how much I dislike the old “Write what you know” advice and instead advocate “Write what you want to read.”
Expanded out a little, that becomes, “Tell the stories you want to experience.”
But to know what kinds of stories those are, you need to do some homework. What, homework? Yes. I know it will be terribly rough for you, but you need to expose yourself to stories.
Note that I very specifically avoided saying “…but you need to read a lot of novels.” If you want to be a novelist, you obviously should be reading a lot of novels, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to just them. Watch movies. Read webcomics. Try graphic novels. A story is a story, and although the way they are told varies by medium, the basics of good storytelling transcend those limitations.
When I wanted to be a fantasy novelist, oh so many years ago, I heard the further piece of advice, “Read a lot of novels, including those outside your genre.” To this day, I believe this is excellent advice for all storytellers, from novelists to webcomic artists to screenplay writers to graphic novelists.
Well, a good story is a good story, regardless of its medium or genre. Regardless of the often arbitrary category in which it is filed. Don’t be embarrassed by these labels assigned to stories by publishers, bookstore owners, or movie theaters. There are amazing stories told in every kind of genre, in every kind of medium.
When I was an aspiring fantasy novelist and heard that advice I went to my mom and asked her to recommend a good romance novel. She went through her collection and found me a historical romance. I read it. I enjoyed it. I remember little about it except the lead character’s surname, which I later co-opted into my own stories because I thought she was cool. The story was inspiring in at least some way, even though I was so far outside the target audience.
Except I am, because I’m someone who enjoys a good story. And that’s another related point: as a storyteller, you are the target audience of everything.
Let’s go with another example. I have a friend who recommended The Hunger Games trilogy to me, although he was a little embarrassed, because they are YA. I told him it didn’t matter, because of my mantra, “A good story is a good story.”
So go forth, friends, and expose yourself to stories. Not just those in the genre you want to write. Not just those in the medium you want to create in. Experience stories all across the spectrum, from dystopian YA to historical romance to mainstream tales, as novels or movies or sequential art.