Whether a writer is trying a new genre or continuing in an old genre, genre research is a good idea. Lawrence Block, who wrote ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ gives some instruction on how to do this research.
Block gave the example of how he did research for writing mystery short stories for various mystery magazines that in those long-ago days were plentiful. He admits voraciously reading through every magazine of that type he could get.
Since Block encouraged young writers to start with a novel since the short story markets had almost vanished, he suggested reading 8-12 books in the genre. But when he got more specific he suggested starting with six books by six different writers, some established writers in the field and some newer ones.
I would suggest a little more organized approach. Step One: Google the name of the genre. You want to find out: are there alternate names for the genre? Who are the big name writers in the genre right now? Who were the classic writers that were active earlier in the genre history? Can you find any current list of the best-selling books in the genre?
Don’t skip this step if you have been writing in the genre, have been reading the genre since age 8. You need to expand your knowledge and can’t do that sticking to the same old websites and same old writers.
After the research, pick some books. Pick 2-3 books from the current best-seller list, 2-3 books from current authors in the genre, and 2-3 from newer, less known authors.
In the book, Block gives as his example gothic novels. This was a sub-genre of romance. When I was a girl, there were whole sections of just gothic novels in shops. Then the genre pretty much died. The top writers of gothics started calling their books ‘romantic suspense’ or some such thing. I thought it was kind of interesting that Block just randomly picked a doomed genre as his example genre. It shows that a writer needs to be flexible in genre matters.
If you chose ‘science fiction’ as your genre, and you are a Christian, should you limit your reading to just Christian science fiction? Not really. Christian fiction in its broader sense— including not just Evangelicals but Catholic, Lutheran, and even Mormon authors— is still a limited group. Most Christians read more secular novels than specifically Christian ones.
Of course in the science fiction genre we are plagued by a lot of ‘award-winning’ authors that have no interesting ideas but are filled with Social Justice Warrior (SJW) conformity, and just the right kind of non-diverse left-wing diversity with a touch of fashionable hatred for ‘religious people’, mainly Christians and Jews. If you are picking random books by random authors you may get stuck with one of these books. If the author is a newbie in the field, feel free not to finish the book, but if he/she/they/zie are well-established and actually make the genre best-seller lists, you may feel the need to force your way through it for educational purposes. I’d suggest rationing the poison, and reading a bit of something you actually LIKE after to get the stupidness purged from your mind.
Block suggests in the book that you don’t just read the books, but you write outlines of them This helps you see the structure of the book.
How do you write outlines for a book you are reading? Keep a notepad nearby. When you finish a chapter, write the main things that happen in the chapter. Page back so that you get all the character names right. Make sure that your chapter notes run to several sentences so that you get the main points covered.
When you finish the book, go through your chapter notes. If you have written a longish paragraph for each chapter, try to condense it down to two sentences covering the most important things. The desire is to end up with a tighter outline.
Now, read your draft 2 outline. Can you detect the three acts of the three act structure? Or the doorway of no return and the mirror moment that James Scott Bell speaks of in his how-to-write books?
After you have read through several books in this way, answer some questions. What do the books have in common? What is the minimum that readers of the genre expect, to show that the book IS in the genre? What are some plot elements that are so common in the genre that they might be stereotypes?
If you are trying a genre for the first time, genre research is essential so that you are able to actually know the genre requirements and expectations, and meet them. A more practiced writer in a genre may do research in order to renew their enthusiasm, and to detect changes in the genre. This is important if you tend to read the same authors over and over for years, and are reluctant to try new authors.