Donald Maass– The 21st Century Novel Panel at WDC


The Writer’s Digest Conference had many mind stretching, craft expanding panels. I wish I could blog about each one, but I’d rather select three to share. And the awesome Emmie Mears has graciously agreed to Guest post about a panel as well.

That should satiate your conference interests without inundating you with info.

I loved Donald Maass’s panel on Writing The 21st Century Novel.

Brimming with brilliant insight.

He talked about how commercial fiction dominated the New York Times Bestsellers list in the 1970s and 1980s, but in the 1990s things began to change. Fantasy and literary fiction began to take a place on that venerable list.

He believes now in the 21st century there is another shift occurring.

Curious, he started to research these changes. He found there was a decrease in straight genre fiction and an increase in cross genre fiction.

In fact, cross genre books were selling better than straight genre fiction. These hybrids were fiction that read like literary fiction but were genre fiction.

He came to this conclusion: In the 21st century, the genre concept will slowly die and go away. It will be replaced with high impact fiction, which marries great story telling with beautiful writing.

This means that commercial and literary writers each have something to learn from each other. The story must meld the two types so that it effects the reader and reaches people in a powerful way.

Mr. Maass then led us through an exercise to help make our stories more high impact. He has a book coming out to help writers do this at home too. I’ll definitely be purchasing it.

His main point with these exercises was to engage the reader emotionally. I have to admit it worked. I made three revisions to my finished manuscript this weekend because of his workshop. And they all improved the readers emotional experience.

One prompt he posed to the audience was: Write down the hardest thing your protagonist has to do in the course of the story. Now work out why the character has sworn never to do or do it again.

He wants writers to construct powerful protagonists, 3-D secondary characters, and make the book plot driven but beautifully written.

He has several workshops this year that are worth attending.

Thanks WDC for a killer first day workshop panel!

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8 Responses to Donald Maass– The 21st Century Novel Panel at WDC

  1. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    Lots of insightful info. Tks.

  2. Emmie Mears says:

    Kourtney! I thought that you could use another blog award or two, so I went rebel and nominated you for two at once. 😀 (Don’t hate me…)

    I always kind of mush the rules till they fit my whims, so feel free to do the same. 😀

    • Thanks so much Emmie! I’m grateful squared and doubly appreciative. 🙂 I’m very behind on blog awards because I’m away from my laptop and finding an iPad is not almost like a laptop. I will definitely reserve a blog post or two next week for all the lovely awards!:)

      I could never hate you! And thanks for the freedom to mush the rules. That is much appreciated.

  3. What a fascinating conclusion Mr. Maas presented. The term ‘literary fiction’ has always seemed misleading to me, seeing as all books are literary and, ideally, well-written. I wonder how books would then be organized by sellers…

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, Kourtney. Such a gift!

    • It was one of the most intriguing workshops of the weekend. I think if you look at a book like Lovely Bones you see how literary “beautiful writing” married great plotting. But you raise a good point, the genre is so important to shelving and selling. I wish I had thought to raise that to Mr. Maass during the workshop.

      I’m happy to share tidbits from conferences. I know how expensive they can be and how hard it is to pick which ones to attend. 🙂

  4. ottabelle says:

    Wow, interesting. I’m glad your book is improving!

Any thoughts or reactions or favorite foods you want to share?