The characters made me do it

coverIt is fascinating to listen to writers talk about their craft. Setting the Scene for Murder at the Christchurch Writers Festival was the opportunity to hear two of America’s most successful crime writers, Tess Gerritsen and John Hart.

I loved how they both talked of characters they created who developed a life of their own and led the writers in directions they could not have imagined when they began their novels. Neither writer develops an outline before they begin a book,they just write and then edit. John Hart referred to it as ‘grope and hope’. I just couldn’t imagine how Tess Gerritsen could write an entire novel longhand (in doctors writing no-one else can read) then type it up and edit it through six or seven drafts. John Hart spoke of writing freely in the morning and editing what he had written in the afternoon. Either way it seemed to be a brave and consuming enterprise for both novelists. When asked about seeking feedback on their writing Tess spoke of the value of writers groups where other writers critiqued your work. John Hart was adamantly opposed to criticism by committee and trusted his wife’s opinion

Their intimate involvement with their characters was echoed by the four New Zealand crime writers who spoke before the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award.When Paddy Richardson talked about how her character developed she said the character chose the direction.

coverI think crime writers must feel like children’s writers. They are often pigeonholed and their writing dismissed as somehow a lesser kind. In fact the best of them, as we saw today, start out first and foremost to write creatively, to express themselves and for their personal satisfaction. That their characters and plots lead them to be labelled as crime writers is by the by. Tess Gerritsen has used her background as a Chinese American and her feeling of being an outsider to find expression in her characters. John Hart talked about writing to change his life and writing as catharsis. Neil Cross talked about wanting to write about transgression, sin and guilt.

It was great session. Fans of Tess Gerritsen will be pleased to know a television series based around her characters Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli should be screening here next year under the name Rizzoli and Isles.

One thought on “The characters made me do it

  1. rachaelccl 22 August 2011 / 1:27 pm

    They don’t do an outline before they start? Whoa, that’s a cool thing to know! I’ve heard a few authors mention that the characters often take over. It must be a bit scary, that.

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