Division appeared early on and seemed to be the theme of the convention, though all in a light-hearted and intelligent manner. First up was during a panel entitled “All But Actors on a Stage: Creating Memorable Characters” with Fiona McIntosh, Robin Hobb, Stephen Gallagher, Suzanne McLeod, Jasper Kent and moderated by Thomas F. Monteleone.
The opinion that science fiction is driven by plot and fantasy by character was raised and bandied about a bit before Robin Hobb provided several strong examples of character led science fiction that pretty much blew that argument out of the water, although it was an interesting way of looking at the perceived differences between the two.
A panel with diverse beliefs certainly led to an animated discussion that was worth watching. You can make your own decision about which side of the argument you are on but it was fascinating hearing about how the panellists begin their approach to a story and how a character forms for each of them. Fiona McIntosh describing how her characters in The Lavender Keeper grew from a sprig of lavender was an excellent way of reminding us that we all approach writing differently and can take inspiration from anywhere.
From there I went straight into “The Play’s the Thing: Style or Substance in Fiction” with more division becoming evident from the offset. This time it was genre fiction vs. literary fiction with Jack Dann, Ian R. MacLeod, Geoff Ryman, Lisa Tuttle and moderated by Ellen Kushner.
The two sides of this argument were boiled down to plot vs. no plot, good characters vs. good prose, with literary fiction being hailed as having enviable, beautiful prose and genre fiction being way ahead on narrative and characterisation. The panel discussed which was more important. Well, both of course. What’s the point of having beautiful prose if it does or tells nothing?
My first day at wfc13 ended with the mass signing which – though not something I have ever attended before, and with full lighting in the hall, lots of cramped bodies and white tablecloths it did feel a little more academic than atmospheric – was a great opportunity to chat briefly with authors, get books signed and meet randomers in the many queues I found myself standing in.
More than anything the mass signing was a reminder of how friendly and approachable the authors and the other people who attend these events really are. It may not seem like it to newcomers; at times it may feel daunting and cliquey, but just put yourself out there and go for it. It’s also a great reminder that the authors love to hear that people enjoyed their work – after all, they have sweated, toiled and battled the dreaded writer’s curse over it.