Michele Gorman learnt some valuable lessons as she consulted readers while writing her chick lit book Misfortune Cookie…
My idea to write an interactive book struck after a series of small events, but ended with a big project and my second published book, Misfortune Cookie.
After I moved to Hong Kong to research the book, I found out that my publisher didn’t want to take it on, so I shelved the project. Instead I wrote another book, about five women all taking chances in their lives. I was meeting with my agent to discuss it and I came away from the meeting supercharged and excited, just having had the opportunity to bounce ideas around with her. I love chatting through plot lines and character development and was thinking about this as I checked my emails.
There was one from a reader who’d read Single in the City and kindly got in touch to tell me she’d loved it. Her email was a wonderful balance of praise and suggestions for character and story development. As I pondered on the kindness of readers, the idea struck. If I love talking to people about my writing, and this woman had just taken the time to tell me what she thought, maybe there were more women who’d like to chat about books. That’s how the idea came about, so I put the call out on Twitter, Facebook and my blog. To my delight, dozens of women got involved!
I had an idea about the general story development and the main characters, so we had a framework to work within. I think this was an important factor. It probably would have been very frustrating for the readers if the process had been too open-ended. I knew Hannah would move to Hong Kong to be with her boyfriend (who would then be sent to another country for work), and that her best friend Stacy would join her.
But the devil is in the details, and I found that the best way forward was to put characters into situations and ask readers to say how the plot should proceed. So, for example, early on I put Hannah in a bind. Her boyfriend and best friend arrive in Hong Kong on the same day. She’s in love with Sam and he’s only there for two days, but Stacy has just flown half way around the world (though she’ll be living there). Who should she be with on their first night?
For each question there was a poll with three choices, and a blog post with more detail that the readers could comment on. This ensured that we could chat about why the readers wanted the plot twists, and that was the best part of the process because it helped me really understand what the readers wanted.
I also asked questions about character development. So, for example, I asked whether Sam should be madly in love or whether Hannah should hear alarm bells, and what Sam’s boss, Li Ming, should look like and how she should behave. What was most interesting about these character questions was that readers often had a different idea about their motivations than I did. This was particularly true when I asked about Sam’s best friend Pete, who is being rude to Hannah. In teasing out why readers voted the way they did, a few readers suggested that Pete had a crush on Hannah. That hadn’t occurred to me, because of the way Pete had developed in my head, and it was great to get such different perspectives.
Overall this was a really fun, though challenging process. I loved getting to talk through ideas with readers and getting different perspectives. The challenge came when my idea about how the plot or character should develop differed from the readers’ ideas. That required me to give up a bit of control and trust the readers’ views. But the ability to hear why readers thought the way they did was invaluable. That’s what made me sure that the paths we chose were the right ones for the story. And that’s why I think it’s critical for any other writer contemplating an interactive book process to have this open-ended blog option. It isn’t enough to know what the readers want. You’ve got to know why.
This is Michele’s second post for Chicklit Club Connect. Read her previous post here.