The consensus opinion is that in order to be a good fiction writer I must read well-written fiction. The idea is that I’m exposing myself to the best and should, in turn, absorb some positive influence from it, making me a better writer.
Sure, I can see that to a degree, but does that mean if I want to write sci-fi I should only read well-written sci-fi? In my opinion, reading a good book, regardless of the genre or topic, should have the same effect. I’m seeing how it’s done, how sentences are constructed, how paragraphs flow, how plot twists are set up and executed. A damn good mystery novel can instill in me new ideas that I can then work into my latest story, regardless of the genre. Good is good.
But what about bad fiction? Should it be avoided because it may have a negative influence on my writing?
In my opinion, no. Reading bad fiction (poorly written) can be just as educational, and maybe just as entertaining, as quality fiction. Is it really any different than purposely watching a bad movie? It’s just a different type of entertainment.
And reading poor execution in plotting or characterization can be enlightening. It helps me to see what not to do and things to avoid when I’m feeling experimental. It can also be a boost to my self-esteem…“thank goodness I’m not THAT bad.”
For writers who are always working on honing their craft, reading is key, and reading a wide variety of authors and genres is essential. With that, we also have to consume the bad with the good. It gives us perspective on our own work, shows us what elements should be used and which to avoid.
Besides, how can we tell what’s really good if we don’t know what’s bad?
Do yourself a favor and read some bad writing every so often. If you don’t, you won’t know what you’re missing.