Wednesday, 26 August 2009

MWF: Visions of the city

The second panel I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival last Saturday was called Visions of the City. The premise was to explore how the city is imagined in fiction -- with a distinctively speculative fiction flavour. The panel also launched Overland magazine's 'Melbourne Futures' issue.

The drawcard for the panel was undoubtedly China M, 'new weird' SF author, but also featured two other recognised Australia-based SF writers. It seemed that the SF theme was largely due to the fact that fantastic fiction explores cities in peril rather more thoroughly than most other genres.

The discussion meandered a lot, and became quite intellectual in parts -- far too intellectual for me to summarise, in fact. (I'm not sure I followed half of it!) However, there was some discussion of the creative process, which is always interesting.

China's creative process is to begin with setting. Evidently his settings are always urban and hugely important -- hence his presence on this panel. Anyway, he composes set pieces (or dramatic events/scenes), devises characters, then sets all these down on a page and draws twisty lines through them. These are then pulled straight and become the timeline he writes to. Sounds fascinating.

Margot L, another writer on the panel comes at it from the opposite direction. She starts with character and waits until they start muttering, then she follows them to see where they go. In her words: "The more I plan, the more boring the story is." A message I heard from two different authors on Saturday!

She went on to describe her approach to novel development, which is an interesting evolution from short story writing (for which she is perhaps better known). She says she uses an overall plot line -- borrowed from a fairy tale, for instance -- as a scaffolding, and writes several stories that touch that scaffolding. From here she works on them until they form the complete novel.

As always, it's totally fascinating to hear various authors approach to the creative process.

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