What I Learned from Genrecon 2015

A room full of genre fiction writers is my idea of heaven. It’s nice to be in a room full of people who won’t roll their eyes when you proudly announce “I write genre fiction!” So it was a no brainer to go to Genrecon in Brisbane this year, attended by writers of romance, sci-fi, fantasy, crime and everything in between. I had a fantastic weekend bantering with other authors, percolating ideas and being entertained by Mary Robinette Kowal’s insane level of talent (I mean, who else can write novels and work as the right hand of Oscar the Grouch?).

Here’s a little write up of some of the panels I attended.

The Subtle Art of Misdirection

This panel drew on a number of ideas I’ve heard spoken of recently, particularly that of creating a twist or suspense without breaking the contract with the reader. I find this idea fascinating, that writing a book is an agreement with the reader. In certain genres, particularly romance, you have to end stories a certain way otherwise you ostracise your readers.

Angela Savage said that “The very act of writing a book is the art of misdirection,” exploring the idea that writers are convincing readers they’re not reading a book. However crime fiction is a contract-breaking genre. It doesn’t always end well, and it’s not guaranteed either.

The discussion followed through with whether or not having a lying or unreliable narrator who reveals late in the story their unreliability is also breaking the contract with the reader. A character can get away with lying if you’ve signposted that they’re unreliable. What came to mind (and what was also mentioned) was Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books, which is often regarded as one of the most successful unreliable narrators. I think if we’re being weaved into the story, that the reader doesn’t mind being tricked. There just needs to be some part of that unreliability or unhinged nature demonstrated early on which clues the reader in that this is worth following to the end. Other examples that come to mind include many of the popular gothic romance novels such as Dracula and the Woman in White, which explored multiple narrators of varying reliability, as well as more recent fare like Gone Girl. Gracie Macgregor said that romance is about uncovering honest, emotional truth, which is why you can’t break the contract with your readers by having a deceitful character.

The panel had an unanimous disdain for dream sequences – which elicited a large groan from the audience, so I’m not alone in hating the dreaded dream sequence. There’s nothing worse than a “And then I woke up” story. Or going along with a dream in a chapter, which the character wakes from in a cold sweat. I’m sure all of us have had those dreams, but usually they have nothing to do with our everyday story and more to do with going back to school or being chased by chocolate eclairs. Angela Savage pointed out that it does work in an altered state or delirium situation; the books of William S Burroughs come to mind.

Writing Blistering Banter

From left: Anna Campbell, Mary Robinette Kowal, C.S. Pacat, Kathleen Jennings
From left: Anna Campbell, Mary Robinette Kowal, C.S. Pacat, Kathleen Jennings

The banter panel was just that – full of delightful exchange between authors. Everyone in the room had a fantastic time, especially when Mary Robinette Kowal made a puppet from a scarf. See what I mean about being too talented?

CS Pacat discussed the king of TV banter, Aaron Sorkin, and his style of layering dialogue. To create great dialogue, look at who’s doing it well and really examine their work. She also said that “When everyone is speaking with the same voice, they’re usually speaking like you.” I’ve had this feedback on my work, and it’s something I struggle with in writing to create unique voices. I try to keep in my head how this person was educated, what family background they have, where they come from, which affects how they speak.

Mary Robinette Kowal had some great tips on how to vary voice with an exercise on the many different ways to say “What did you say?” This can be said with so many variations and meanings, for example, an old British lady would say it completely differently to an ocker Aussie.

In Conversation: Sulari Gentill and Angela Savage

Sulari Gentill and Angela Savage
Sulari Gentill and Angela Savage

Sulari Gentill and Angela Savage in conversation was a delight. Sulari defies all expectations of how a writer should write – she writes quickly and few drafts. It’s inspired me to be more productive (if you know me that’s a bit ridiculous) but being more ruthless in developing and pushing out stories. I do spend a lot of time percolating!

Angela Savage made a good point, that it’s important to have enough life experiences to write. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling before getting anything in print, and it’s influenced my writing enormously.

The conversation on Sunday drifted towards research, which would become an ongoing theme of the day. Sulari doesn’t research before she writes, but she does look up things as the plot goes along. She doesn’t mess with historical events, as they push and pull the story along. Instead, she weaves the story through those events. I’m currently researching a book set in Victorian London, and I think this is wise advice – I’m trying to identify things that occurred in the year the book is set and the impact that would have on the people in town. She also mentioned that historical authors trick people, and need authentic details to convince readers the “spell” is real. Shoddy details break this “spell”.

Some more great tips included if you’re describing a street, look at it from the perspective of your characters and make them interact with that environment.

Most encouraging was both authors’ ardent plea to write your own way – don’t let anyone tell you how to write, otherwise it will take the joy away. You need to go with your natural writing style not to lose the “pleasure of the craft”.

True Tales of Indie Publishing

From left: Patrick O’Duffy, Carmen Jenner, Mark Lingane and Emily Craven

Some brief tips from the Indie publishing panel:

  • People don’t follow across genres – eg from Crime to Fantasy.
  • Romance is by far the highest selling genre online
  • It’s a long game – you need time to establish yourself like any writer, but it can be more efficient if you have a successful first book launch.
  • Online readers want massive novels and value for money.
  • Make sure you have a launch crew for books, to support you and be excited about your new releases.
  • You have to work very hard to be successful as self-published author.

All in all, Genrecon was a great convention, and you can see more photos on my facebook page here.

Were you at Genrecon? Share your best writing tip in the comments below!


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