My Interactive Experiment
by Michele Gorman
I’m chatty by nature, so I don’t enjoy the solitude of writing. Some people dream of locking themselves away in a cabin in the woods to write. I wouldn’t last a week. As it is, on writing days I usually escape the house at some point and wander into shops or cafes just to hear conversation. I make a pest of myself. I’m that woman who holds up the queue trying to strike up conversations with sales clerks.
So I got to thinking. How can I engage with people while writing, without holding up queues or gaining an unflattering reputation? Twitter has been a godsend. It’s the perfect time-waster for writers, as I think we amply prove by the sheer volume of our tweets. But, while I enjoy these bite-size morsels of procrastination, I crave full meals.
I’d love to have someone to chat with while I’m writing, to pick her brain on a day-to-day basis about plots and characters. I spend months, years, with my characters, and I want to share that evolving world. The idea came to me one day when I was reading an email from a fan of Single in the City. She had spent a long time considering the book fully, and she told me where she loved it and where she’d have written it differently. I appreciated her feedback immensely, and thought, how wonderful it would be to have that kind of feedback from lots of women. And that’s when the idea of writing Misfortune Cookie as an interactive book was born.
I was so lucky. I had not only one helpful reader, but dozens. I put the call out on Twitter and Facebook, explained what I wanted to do and invited readers to participate. I had the story idea in my head (girl follows boyfriend to foreign land) and set about asking important plot questions. I always posted a poll question with 3 possible answers. That was so I could easily gauge how the readers wanted the storyline or the characters to develop. I also posted a blog question, which expanded on the poll and invited conversation. That’s where we had really interesting results!
Several times I knew how I’d write the scene or the character, only to be surprised that the readers wanted something else. And because it wasn’t just a poll, but a full discussion, I was able to tease out exactly what they wanted and why. It was one of the best learning processes I’ve had while writing. I can give you an example. Hannah’s boyfriend Sam has a best friend called Pete. Pete is rude to Hannah and I wanted to know why this should be. Is he jealous of her? No, readers didn’t think so. Is he just a jerk? Not one person wanted that to be the case. There was some other reason, they said, which was fine by me. It allowed me to write a twist so that the readers who helped with the book wouldn’t feel like they knew what was going to happen before they read it. What surprised me was that readers thought Pete had a crush on Hannah. In a million years I wouldn’t have thought of that, because of the way I envisioned Pete. I won’t spoil it by telling you what the real reason is ☺
Overall this was a very good experience, and I hope the lovely readers who helped enjoyed it too. It allowed me to interact with lots of chick lit fans, to run ideas by them and to get important feedback. But it still didn’t stop me from pestering sales clerks. Perhaps there’s no cure for that.
Michele Gorman is American-born but London-based. Single in the City was her debut novel and its sequel Misfortune Cookie has recently been released.