Meg Gardiner: familiar fears and deep dreads
“Crime fiction is an extremely successful and popular genre with readers, and I find it fun to write. This course, with its emphasis on crime fiction, will help new writers learn the tricks of the trade. It’ll help students learn how to pull together a gripping plot, and how to bring credible heroes and compelling villains to life on the page – and, above all, how to work those things into a complete novel, a novel with staying power.
The kinds of stories that work best in crime fiction have a lot in common with the great stories we learnt since the time we were children. Show me a scary nursery rhyme, I’ll show you at least the bare bones of a solid crime plot. Fairy tales, myths and ghost stories have a lot of the values great crime fiction needs; you could say that writing crime fiction is about couching those deep dreads and terrors and excitements in ways that feel contemporary and realistic to a modern adult audience. Of course, to do that well, you have to be on top of all the modern, topical anxieties as well: the familiar fears that overlie our deeper dreads.
“But realism isn’t everything. Crime fiction can go in any direction your imagination can take you. It can be gritty, fantastical, whatever you like: it’s a big, wide open field, and it’s always an area where readers are looking for fresh new voices and for writers who can plumb the depths.
“The hardest trick to pull off – and it’s essential – is to construct a plot that’s as surprising as it is sound. So, for a start, you have to know how classic narratives are built. And the right course can give you that. It is teachable. And I think a lot of our time on the Crime Writing Weekend should and will be spent on the business of structure. There is no formula – or at least, no formula you have to follow. But you absolutely have to have classic storytelling in mind, however strange your story, because it’s these rules of classic storytelling that tell you what a reader expects. You can foil those expectations, and the reader will probably love you for it. But you mustn’t ignore their expectations. If you ignore them, you’ll bore the reader’s pants off.
“Teaching crime fiction has had this strange effect on me. The thing is, teaching is just a tiny bit scary. It’s sink or swim in that classroom or lecture hall, and you have to be able to explain yourself. And the kind of succinct, stripped down, clear, pithy expression you acquire, doing that, is pretty much the kind of diction you need in a crime novel. It’s doesn’t have to be “hardboiled”. It does have to be vivid. So I’ll be learning, too. And I’m looking forward to it.”