Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Go Beyond Your Genre

Post by Kerrie Flanagan

It is COB time again (Conference On the Brain). This is the time of year, when all I can really think about is the upcoming Northern Colorado Writers Conference and all the things I still need to do. So, in honor of COB I am bringing back a post from last year that I wrote right after the 2010 conference.

It is definitely pertinent because in the past 7 days, I have had at least three people (and yes, Jerry, you are one of the three :-)  ) tell me they are probably not coming to the conference because there are not many sessions that specifically fit their genre. Well, here is something to think about that might change how you approach future conferences.

Originally Posted April 2010

At an NCW coffee yesterday morning, the members in attendance shared what they learned at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference that took place a little over a week ago. April Moore made a comment that stuck with me. She said, "Go to as many workshops as possible even if they don't directly pertain to your type of writing." She went on to say that she learned just as much, if not more from attending sessions that she didn't think had anything to do with her genre.

I thought at the time that this was great advice for writers planning to attend a conference. Then I realized this is great advice in general. We should all think outside our genre when signing up for classes, going to an author event, or picking books to read on the craft of writing.

If you are a fiction writer struggling with dialogue have you ever considered taking a screenwriting class? Writing an effective screenplay requires a great deal of skill with dialogue. How about reading or listening to Q&A style interviews to catch subtle nuances of language?

Are you a writer who needs to learn to write tight or needs to make your didactic, academic writing more easy to understand? Why not take a children's writing class or read books on how to write for children? Those who are successful at writing for children are masters at getting to the core of the story or the topic. They write it such a way that is easy to understand but it doesn't dumb it down for the reader.

Nonfiction writers can learn a lot by studying fiction. There was a workshop at the conference called, Creating a Sense of Place. This might seem very fiction driven, but the truth is, good nonfiction also needs to draw readers in through the different senses. Knowing how to create a vivid setting places a reader in a piece. Whether that is the plushness of a five-star hotel, the stench of an overflowing landfill or the purity of nuns singing their morning prayers at an Abbey, incorporating the senses makes it more memorable for the reader.

What about the business side of writing? A good book proposal is at the core of selling a nonfiction books. But what about fiction? Most fiction writers don't create a book proposal for their book--it isn't usually required by agents and editors. But I bet fiction writers could learn so much by putting together a proposal for their book, even though if it was just be for their benefit. Proposals would force authors to look at what they have written, figure out where it fits in the world of publishing, what is the competition, how does their book differ from the current books on the market and how are they going to help with marketing.

The more I think about it, the more I realize just how connected all genres of writing really are. We can learn about foreshadowing from mysteries, relationships from romances and the beauty of language from poetry.

Have you ever taken a class or workshop that wasn't directly related to your genre and ended up learning a lot from it?



bfav said...

Last year at NCW, I went to Page Lambert's Connecting People with Nature. She's definitely not Middle Grade and yet I learned a ton from her about creating backstory through scene and sense.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I agree. I always try to attend sessions in genres or writing ventures I know nothing about. One of the most interesting classes I attended was on lyrical poetry, and goodness knows I'm no poet.

Michelle Mach said...

I went to all sorts of talks at last year's conference on things I wasn't focused on--science fiction, inspirational novels, etc. I think sometimes you can learn *more* when you go to something not in your genre because then you are forced to listen carefully and consider everything. At a talk in your genre, you're bound to hear some things that you already knew.

This is true outside of the writing field, too. I've learned a lot going to scrapbooking shows even though I'm not into that craft. Here's a post I wrote on that topic.

Kerrie said...

These are all great point for why we should venture out our genre. Lyrical poetry is definitely a stretch from mystery, Pat.

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