Writing on a wet rock

Northwrite — collaborative fiction

I’m happy to be up at Northwrite today, discussing collaborative fiction with Jane Prinsep, Myra King, Anita Chapman, Beate Sigriddaughter, Claire King and Chris Nedahl.

The discussion follows, amongst other things, a collaborative story started by Michelle Elvy in 2012. Hopping continents from writer to writer, the initial story branched into eight separate versions which can be read here (along with a beautiful mother-daughter collaboration called ‘Two Cups of Tea’).

There are some interesting points. Collaborative storytelling, with its focus on community and sharing, harks back to the oral tradition; to gatherings and our storytelling origins. As Beate Sigriddaughter puts so warmly and eloquently,

 …collaboration drives home to me that we’re all in this together and that we all belong…

For the writer, this means as we share our story, we also prepare to relinquish control: when we pass the story on, the next writer steers the plot down any path they choose, which may or may not please the earlier contributors. As Claire King points out, it’s possible to end up with a story that a sole contributor would not have written, or wanted to see published, in its final form.

Does it matter? Does the richness of many voices compensate for any plot glitches or seams in collaborative stories? Or is the collaboration something to be celebrated for its own sake?

To me, while the stories may not be polished, they are vibrant, they do reflect the warmth of belonging, and for the occasional hell of it, it feels good to relinquish a bit of control. Just for a moment.

My thanks to Michelle Elvy for setting this up, for the enjoyment, for the publication… for all of it, really.

2 Responses to “Northwrite — collaborative fiction”

  1. claire king

    Ooh lovely to see that discussion up there (and here). When I read my comment of the context of other writers’, it seemed to imply that I wasn’t happy with the story we ended up with, which wasn’t the case at all.

    But the process did get me thinking about the work that we publish, and how careful we are to edit it thoroughly before publishing, whereas with these pieces there was no overall edit.

    It may be that editing is on my mind, as that’s what I’ve spent most of this year doing, and I do like to go back over something several times to ensure the start of a story is always going to lead to the end, whether you know it or not. To foreshadow and to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

    I would have liked to have sat in a room with all the authors and pulled those strands through our story. I think it would have been fun, and even more collaborative than just a handover of the baton at the seams.

    • t upchurch

      Your comment at Northwrite resonated; like you, I edit my work before releasing it and this project took me out of my comfort zone.

      I don’t usually share any of my writing with anyone (other than agent or editors) before publication. It required a leap of faith to ‘put something out there’ into the hands of others. For me that leap was an exercise in itself.

      It is possible to edit stories as a collaborative team, and it can be done online (I do it at work) but this particular project was designed to hop geographical time zones to produce global flash fiction, with emphasis on fun and immediacy rather than detailed discussion. Certainly an editing group would have been essential for anything longer.

      This project aimed to bring people together, who may otherwise not have ‘met’, to have fun and create — and I think we did that.


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