What is gen? The focus is on something other than the sex, although it’s possible to explore sexuality. Gen fic can focus on one character or many; it can involve one or more relationships; and it can be short or long.
We did talk about the fact that gen fic often needs a stronger plot if it’s longer; it’s not just A meets B and they have a good time. The focus in a longer gen fic isn't on the relationship between one or more couples; it's on what's going on around them. Also, there's often a higher requirement for characterization, because there are shortcuts that can be taken with romance to transmit data re: character and situations. With gen, you have to find another way to do that, and you have to stretch and add more layers.
[Note: While I think there's a kernel of truth to that, the best stories (IMHO), particularly long stories, have strong characterization and plot, whether they're classified as gen, het, or slash. You can have chapter after chapter of porn, and I've read a few (and even enjoyed a few) like that, but my favorite stories are always the ones with multiple layers, multiple relationships, and strong characterization.]
People often come to fanfiction for what they can’t get on screen, and a lot of times that’s sex.
One issue that came up, was that the lack of feedback can discourage writers from writing gen, which I tend to agree with. [Note: I don't think any writer can pretend that feedback means nothing, but I also believe that at a certain point each writer has to make a choice to tell the story that they want to tell, and to hell with everyone else.]
Physical intimacy in a gen story, the non-sexual, platonic touching can be very evocative, one panelist pointed out. She was speaking of a gen story she'd written for SGA, and how the idea of comrades taking care of each other can be an incredibly powerful image. So, that's one thing to keep in mind when writing gen fic. It doesn't mean there's no physical intimacy between characters.
One of the complaints that was voiced during the panel was that in many gen fics, you can have a het pairing that isn't the focus of the story, and people won't complain, but if you have a slash pairing that isn't the focus, folks will claim that the story should be labeled as slash. One panelist suggested that the question should be what goes on in the background? Canon or extra-canon characters can be straight or gay, and the story can still be gen, the same way that heterosexual characters can.