My guest today is Steve Rossiter, the editor of the Australian Literary Review, and one of the authors of a new supernatural thriller called Possessing Freedom. Read on to discover more about this fascinating fiction project, collaborative writing in general, and the fan fiction competition now open for entries, with a prize of $2000!
You have contributed two stories to Possessing Freedom, one of two collaborative fiction books released in the past month. What is Possessing Freedom about?
Possessing Freedom could be considered paranormal suspense or supernatural thriller fiction. Set in Melbourne in 2026, the book starts out with 17 year old Alice who discovers that her ‘imaginary friends’ are actually ghosts. The POV shifts between 6 characters, with 2 stories told by each POV character.
The book explores themes of freedom and confinement on numerous levels. It deals with life and death, friendship, despair, love, responsibility, and courage.
Tell me more about the processes involved in collaborative fiction? How do the authors work together?
We all got together around a table at a café and discussed the story direction, characters, etc, and came to a shared understanding of some of the big picture elements. Through fortnightly meetings and staying in touch online, we discussed story drafts, character profiles and ideas until we had developed enough detail to have all 12 stories written with a decent level of consistency and integration. Then it was my role as editor to do some tidying up of details between stories.
For anyone considering collaborative fiction, I recommend that each person be flexible and not get too attached to any particular idea, as it has to all fit in together as a whole. It is typically a good idea, especially for groups of more than two, to have one person with the final say on details so a coherent big picture is maintained and so clear decisions are made in a timely manner.
Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? What are the main challenges of each?
I am currently writing my first novel with the aim of publishing in 2014. I prefer writing novels. in the sense that the longer form of a novel provides a more sustained experience which is more rewarding for most readers, and more rewarding for me to create. This also means that novels are a more solid foundation for a writing career, as people tend to read and purchase what they find more rewarding.
There is a sense in which an integrated or themed short story collection can approximate a sustained novel-like experience, which is the general idea behind both Possessing Freedom and The Life and Times of Chester Lewis.
When US novelist Lauren Kate came to Australia last year, I asked her whether she liked writing short stories and she said that she naturally prefers the longer form of a novel where there is room to develop characters and a story more fully, but that part of her wishes she was more suited to writing short stories too so she could participate more in the social aspect of working with different authors.
The two short story books recently released are designed to strike a balance between providing entertaining and thought-provoking novel-length experiences, serving as author-development initiatives for Australian writers, and engaging emerging fiction writers to develop their skills and meet like-minded writers through the fan fiction competition for each book.
What habits do you think make you most productive as a writer? (and those that make you least productive if you’d care to share!)
An important fiction writing skill, which helps productivity by both improving the focus of the large-scale storytelling and improving the clarity of finer details, is to understand the difference between story and characters (what happens and who does it) and discourse (how a writer conveys what happens), and to have good idea of how each works for the story you are writing.
Retreating into a character’s head for a lot of introspection with little happening in the story, or lots of action with unclear character motivations or unsatisfying character development are the kinds of passages which are likely to be cut or to require a major rewriting later. On one hand, a rough draft of a chapter is better than no draft, but, on the other hand, a confused draft is nowhere near as good as a draft with at least a basic level of coherence which makes a clear contribution to the overall story.
I have come across plenty of fiction writers who don’t have a firm grasp of their subject matter or who have only a vague story concept in mind, who find they keep running out of ideas, second-guessing themselves or meandering, with no clear story direction, character development or theme to unify the story into a satisfying experience for readers.
A little forethought can go a long way, and knowing the subject matter, along with having a clear idea of both the big picture details and the way in which you are telling the story does a lot to help the writing process flow smoothly.
The books each have fan fiction competitions – what do you think are the key elements of a good piece of fan fiction?
The word range for the fan fiction competition stories is 2000-4000 words. With that in mind, I suggest picking a character to focus on and a significant episode in their life with a clear connection to something important in the book. The fan fiction stories just have to be recognisably set in the same story-world as those in the book and have a recognisable connection to a major character in the book, but something which also builds on a key aspect of the overall story or further develops the personality and life story of a major character seem likely to result in stories with greater impact and meaning, which also draw added depth from the other stories.
Beyond that, write something original, with clear character motivations, and stakes which matter to the characters.
I have an article with some fan fiction idea-starters and discussion on PossessingFreedom.net.
Thanks for coming on to the site, Steve, and best of luck with your books.