The SheKilda Women Crime Writers’ Convention is over. Most of us hope it will not be ten years until the next one, though perhaps the convenors may need a longer break. Lindy Cameron, perhaps unwisely, suggested she might be ready to do it all again in five years. We’re still waiting to see if she ends up stabbed to death multiple stiletto heels, Murder on the Orient Express-style, by the aghast committee.
The attendees are not aghast at the prospect. In fact, we’re rather keen to do it all again next year, no waiting! As I wrote in my previous post, I certainly found the conference rewarding, inspiring and heaps of fun. I also learned a few things and had a few insights.
In the Chills and Thrills: The Why of Crime panel, writers spoke about why that began to write crime and why they chose the kinds of stories they wrote about. Talking about ‘chills and thrills’ in this context, I realised that, for me, chills referred to the fear experienced when our characters (or we ourselves) become powerless, unable to protect ourselves or our loved ones from harm. Being at the mercy of things we cannot control or evade, especially if those things are unjust and unforgiving, is very chilling. The thrills then come in finding the courage, strength and determination to stand up to the fear. Personally or in our characters, taking on the threat (and hopefully beating it!) definitely provides a sense of thrilling energy to me.
The Bending the Rules panel on crime that crosses with other genres, like SF, fantasy and horror, offered a few other interesting ideas. Mariane Delacourt (who also writes as Marianne de Pierres) pointed out that a crime story provides a natural narrative drive for any genre. I felt that the nature of a crime story, which gives the character an excuse for poking into different levels of society and explores transgression from society’s norms, gives a writer a great framework for exploring alien or fantastical societies, their ethics and their social layers.
That panel also veered off onto a discussion on the role of sex and violence in stories and what might be ‘too much’. Generally, the panellists felt that as long as the scenes served to explore or extend the story, you wrote what you needed to write. I mentioned my issue of the porn-to-plot ratio too. I’m no prude, but I prefer more plot than porn. If the porn is also plot, it counts as plot, I guess. It was an entertaining discussion, anyway.
Finally, Meg Vann’s Just the Facts, Ma’am panel on researching crime novels was a terrific session, providing ideas for the different kinds of crime books and how each type needs different kinds of research. A police procedural needs different types of information and detail than a whodunnit. One insight Vann gave was that for stories involving investigative technology, writers really need to be absolutely on top of all the current developments and then predicting where those will be five years ahead.
Another broad lesson learned was how every writer has a different process. Some plot out a story in very detailed story boards long before they start writing. Others totally wing it from the start. Some research for months before they start writing, others write a first draft and then decide what needs more detail. In the end, it seems there is no ‘right way’ to write – only the way that is right for each individual author.
Of course, this is just a little taste of what I gleaned from the conference. Thank you again to the organisers, volunteers and guests who made it such a memorable and energising experience.