The Melbourne Writers' Festival is on right now, and I always try to go to at least a couple of sessions, mainly because it sends me home feeling re-inspired. Of course, it depends on who the speakers are, but I headed for the crime fiction session yesterday morning, with Michael Robotham and Tess Gerritsen. I've heard Michael talk before, and he's always good value, but I wondered what Tess would be like.
It was a great session, full of information, insights and laughs (yes, laughs, about things like dead people waking up in the morgue and fake Egyptian mummies - that's crime fiction readers and writers for you!). As the topic was plot, Michael talked about how much he hated plotting - he likes backstory and dialogue, but mostly he likes writing about his characters. Strong characters make strong plots, and he focuses on their motivations and who they are inside. He also said the most interesting crimes are the imperfect ones - there is more to write about.
Tess Gerritsen told the audience that she believes women read crime fiction because they identify with the victims in the stories - readers want to experience danger and feel vulnerable. I'm not sure I agree with that. I think I identify with the detective and want to see justice! She also talked about loving her characters and said she keeps writing about Rizzoli and Isles because she wants to find out what else is happening in their lives.
She doesn't outline, she just writes. The idea that will start a novel is one that feels like a "punch in the guts" - when she finds that idea, and often it's something in real life, she knows from that feeling that it will start a great novel. In every scene, she asks herself, "What is the worst that could happen now?" and then makes it happen. She does get what she calls "plot block" and then she goes for long drives until the solution comes to her. She said she is a plunger, not a planner, but everyone has to find the process that works for them.
They both said that they do plenty of research but only enough to get the details right. It can be a danger when the research takes over the project. Someone in the audience asked Tess about whether the publisher's deadlines affect her creativity, and she said that the creativity is always there for her, but it's the discipline that's lacking! Deadlines help the discipline.
I did also go to the session with Jane Smiley in conversation, but a lot of it was focused on her latest book rather than her writing processes. As I haven't read the book, my mind kept drifting off - to my own novel! I often wonder why the interviewer does this - don't they realise that if you haven't read the latest book, you're kind of left out of the conversation?