Crowd-Sourcing Fictional Details

(or how the peanut gallery became the brains trust)

When I sat down to complete ELYORA in June I was faced with a dilemma. The way the story concluded in the second draft required the retro-fitting of some specific details earlier on. I was so focused on getting the novella tidied up for submission (shoe-string timeline, looming deadline and all that), I didn’t have days at my disposal to brew up “the right” deets.

So I threw it open to my Facebook friends to furnish me with all manner of objects, imaginings and etchings.

A DETAILED DATE WITH FACEBOOK

My first foray into crowd-sourcing details for ELYORA was a call for dashboard adornments of Fauna Bate’s ancient Tarago. I gave a quick background of the characters and the situation and then threw it open to anyone on my friend list to offer up a suggestion.

The post got more than 50 comments. Many of the friends commenting weren’t just offering up ideas, but interacting and building on the suggestions of others. It was like a mini community mobilising…all for the benefit of my novella.

A few days later, I opened up suggestions for what Hal had tattooed on his arm. Building on the earlier post and the general bonhomie it had generated, this also garnered more comments than I could have hoped for and all manner of crazy ink ideas (and associated story lines).

FROM PEANUT GALLERY TO BRAINS TRUST

My Facebook friends–a brilliant blending of old and new RL friends from home and across the globe, writing and publishing associates, online acquaintances and friends-of-friends–threw up the most vibrant (and bizarre) cornucopia of ideas. Such was the feast it was hard to pick just three items for the Tarago and choosing the tattoo was even harder. They offered up a plethora of suggestions that blew my mind.

The richness of diversity was testament to the rich diversity of my friends on Facebook. I ended up dubbing them “The Elyora Brains Trust”, a name they all loved.

The dashboard ended up adorned with a perfectly kitsch bobble-head Jesus (my high school friend Marion provided me with a picture in the comments), a KISS snow dome (an intensive search finally uncovered a photo of one for sale on eBay) and hanging from the rear vision mirror, a VeeDub badge. All these items generated stories of their own when they were inserted into the existing narrative, adding new layers and complexities at the micro level and very much honing the personae of the character of Benny.

Hal ended up with a kenji tattoo that said ‘hero’–hotly denied by Benny, who claimed it actually said ‘yak poo’ (just as it was suggested by a friend). Honestly, I could never have thought this stuff up.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

It worked so well because I knew exactly what I wanted.

  • The parameters were clear.
  • The instructions were clear.
  • I did my best to succinctly provide the background to situate the details.
  • I answered any additional questions people had.
  • I participated in a way that recognised individual contributions and facilitated additional discussion.
  • It was fun, simple and required little time to participate
  • It was an invitation to be part of something.

At the end, when I let people know what I had chosen for inclusion, I thanked people for their contribution, time and insights. When the novella is tidied up and finished I’ll ensure they all get a chance to at least see the parts they helped shape.

NO DENYING THE EDGE

ELYORA got an edge, in fact, it came alive in a quirky and three dimensional fashion, thanks to a bunch of people who had as much fun suggesting (if the comments were anything to go by) as I had in watching them come in (and later weaving them into the narrative).

For me as a writer, it felt a little less lonely pummeling words into submission, especially on a super tight timeline to completion. It provided an extensive database of ideas to plunder. And it was also an accidental way to grow interest and a small fan base for a piece of work.

With ELYORA sitting with my editor Lesley (and for all intents purposes “done” when it comes to facts and specific details), I’d like to think of The Elyora Brains Trust in hibernation, awaiting new opportunities to populate my next work of fiction with the weird and wonderful.

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