Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Writer Questions Answered

How do you feel about the trend in literature to move from pure genres to mixed genres and do you think it's a sign that people want more entertainment from their dollar?”

Barbara Esstman, a fiction award winner who has written two novels that were adapted for television, responds:

Genres have always been developing in response to changes in human culture.  Epic poetry is no longer a hot item, the novel didn’t get jump-started until the 18th century, and the short story didn’t show up until the 19th.  No big surprise that as we move into a super-accelerated age, genres will morph or combine in ways we’ve yet to imagine.

Sure, readers buy books for their entertainment value, though I’m not sure you can put a dollar amount on that.  We always want art to entertain, as well as instruct, amaze and all those other possibilities.   But we’re all entertained differently.   I don’t want to read “Twilight” or “The DaVinci Code” any more than the fans of those books probably want to wade through “Quarantine” or “Under the Volcano.”  So I think it’s important for writers to avoid trying to outguess the market, a tactic which doesn’t work anyhow, but to write what engages and therefore entertains them to the highest degree.   I mean, hey, if you’re not entertained by your own book, your readers are going to be really, really bored.

I also think it’s interesting to consider what’s happening to us as humans that will be reflected in the new shapes of our art.  Already personal tech devices and an onslaught of sensory input have affected attention spans and possibly the way people think.   When we’ve gotten used to listening to a newscast while reading the weather report streaming across the bottom of the screen, then graphic novels or art installations that come with audio are rather natural extensions of this brave new world multi-tasking.  But again, none of us can predict exactly how this is going to work; better to write what you care about and keep open to new forms that might fit with your style.

Charles Jensen, founder of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT and author of numerous poetry collections, says:

Personally, I think entertainment value has little to do with it.  We are in an era when hybrids of all kinds are essential parts of our lives: phones that check email.  Game consoles that stream movies.  Print magazines with online content.  In some regard, I think it's very exciting to play Dr. Frankenstein and mix elements of different genres to see what you can create.  But I also think that as writers, we have some sense that much has already been done by writers before us.  It was barely 100 years ago that Ezra Pound admonished us to "make it new."  Why stop trying to make it new?  There's no reason yet.  Crossing genres is just a recent innovation--as our technologies change, our interests wander, I'm sure we'll find new and ambitious ways to keep writing interesting. 

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