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.