Remember When Genre Was Genre: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (Part 2)

All of the speakers at the Writer’s Digest Conference that I attended last weekend were excellent.  One of them who stands out in my mind is Donald Maass, who spoke about writing for the 21st Century.  I thought he was going to tell us to write about robots or the aging baby-boomers.  But he was talking more about the way to write a book rather than on a particular topic.

For example, Maass led us through some questions to ask ourselves about our novels.  What is something that would blow your novel sideways?  What is the main character’s one unshakeable belief?  How can we become dead Swedish authors?

He had us write down the one thing that we cannot bear to write down, one thing that we cannot say even to ourselves.  After checking that no one was looking over my shoulder, I jotted down my one thing and covered it hastily with my hand.  I saw what Maass was doing.  He was showing us how to bring emotion into our books, how to make the reader feel something.  What my novel needed, obviously, was for the main character to confront people who keep sitting there sniffling instead of blowing their noses.

Maass also made a prophecy; that cross-genre novels would be big in the 21st Century.  Like crossing paranormal with family epic.  Terrorist with romance.  Ketchup with mayonnaise (the last few are my examples).  In describing the book that people are looking for in the 21st Century, he kept using the words “high intensity” and “emotional,” and said that we should try to show a change occurring over many steps.

Maass’ talk was so electrifying that I was taking notes even before the audience members had finished telling their personal stories disguised as questions.  The notes were for a novel—a novel that was going to blow the doors off every library in the world.  A novel that would be open, face down, on nightstands everywhere.  A novel that would sit on everyone’s shelf from sea to shining sea.

And then I remembered that the novel of the 21st Century would be just electrons and computer code.

7 thoughts on “Remember When Genre Was Genre: Digesting the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (Part 2)

  1. …”telling personal stories disguised as questions” had me laughing out loud. Those are my favorite moments of any large presentation… I once went to a lecture on parenting and marriage, and one woman stood up to ask (with her increasingly bright-red husband sitting right next to her) if ALL marriages could succeed with a little work or if some people were just not suited for marriage. ouch.

  2. I’m really not surprised at the cross genre comment. I think we’ve been sliding that way for a while now, the market just isn’t really there yet.

    The exercise about writing down the one thing that you’d never write is also an interesting thing, and every time I push that line of ‘maybe I shouldn’t write this?’ I write some of the most powerful things I’ve ever written.

    1. That probably explains why books are still marketed according to genre. People need a way to categorize the book.
      And I totally agree that whenever you think you shouldn’t write something down, you should write it down.

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