Genre and “Rules” of Fiction

Walter Mosley

Lesson time 12:54 min

Rethink genres and their limitations with Walter as he discusses the possibilities of pushing the boundaries.

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Topics include: You Don’t Need to Be a Big Reader · Ignore the Gatekeepers of Literature · Consider Genre, but Writing Is Writing · Genre Is a Tool, Not a Limitation


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Lots of people come up to me and say-- like this, they say, well in order to write, you have to read, don't you? I was once being interviewed on a radio station and the guy said, in order to be a writer, you have to be a big reader, right? And I went, no. You don't. And he was so upset. We couldn't even continue with the interview because I had-- you know, this was obvious. He wasn't a writer, but he knew what I needed to know to be a writer. And it was interesting. And you can tell this, because if you go out on a street corner, some people are hanging out, some of them tell great stories. And people who can tell jokes-- and jokes are like-- jokes are tiny little novels. They can just tell one joke after another. They might not ever read a book, you know. Homer was blind and illiterate. And he's the father of the tradition of the novel. Even though what he wrote were poems, those poems were novels. The idea of telling a story is not about reading a story, otherwise what you end up with is writers writing about writers writing. And there are people like that. They read books and they write books. And they become very similar. To be a writer you have to be able to tell a story. Anybody can tell a story. Three-year-old kids are telling stories all the time. Mothers taking care of children are telling stories. Once upon a time, there was-- you know, on and on and on. And what's so wonderful about it is the story that the mother tells the child is not the story the child hears. The child is hearing something different-- slightly different, maybe, or maybe very different. This kid wants to be the wolf. This kid is wondering about size. How does somebody live in a stomach after they get eaten up and then come out again? You know, there's all kinds of different avenues that we go on. We hear stories. We know stories. We know stories about what happened to our fathers or our mothers or our lovers or ourselves-- deep, powerful stories that have nothing to do with reading a book. You were walking down a street and somebody shot you. Well, you don't need to read a book to tell the story about somebody shooting you. You need to tell about that and what it meant, and who you were, and where you went. Now, I'm not trying to say that reading is a thing that people shouldn't do. You like reading books? Read books. Absolutely. But don't mistake the fact that you're reading books with the issue of you becoming a good writer or a person who can write a beginning, middle, and end. Reading and writing are two different things. And if we know that, then it's fine. And if you like reading, great. Reading is very important. It's one of the most important things we do. But it's not necessarily going to make you a writer. So take it from med-- if you haven't read everything or half of everything or 1/10 of 1% of everything, it's OK. Even if reading isn't your favorite thing and you do it sometimes but it might be a guilty plea...

About the Instructor

Walter Mosley, bestselling author and recipient of the National Book Award’s Lifetime Achievement Medal, has written more than 60 books over his 30-year career and is celebrated for fiction that addresses our culture’s racial divides. Now he’s sharing the elements of storytelling that have helped him along the way. Learn how to choose the right words, structure, genre, and characters to create the novel that’s in you.

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Walter Mosley

In his MasterClass, Walter Mosley teaches you how to rethink genres and the “rules” of fiction and how to approach writing your own novel.

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