Full Fathom Five – What can it teach us?

I recently ran a short story project with the members of Birmingham Writers Group. The concept was pretty much identical to Ten To One but it was a short story (12,000 words) called Full Fathom Five.
In Full Fathom Five, five people each handled a character apiece and wrote in chapters of approx. 500 words. They were guided by me, the editor-author, who laid out the bones of the story (which turned out to be a grisly tale of inbred post-Nazi Cornish wreckers. It did!)
Like this, but on a Cornish island. Honest.
At the end of each chapter-round, a character was voted out by a panel of judges (which later included the evicted writers). That character was killed (two shootings, one dog attack / bloody assault, one shooting / drowning).
Everyone involved enjoyed participating (all friendships are intact) and the resultant story is a gripping read (read it all now at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Full-Fathom-Five/442480159145664)  but there were some issues highlighted:
The shortness of the chapters – The head-hopping from character to character to character was bewildering and annoying for some beta-readers. No sooner had we got one perspective than we were on to the next person.
The number of characters – Most stories have one, maybe two, central characters. Full Fathom Five (FFF) had five. Did the reader ever feel they got to know any single one of them?
Favourite characters dying – The character of Zoe, for example, was a judges’ favourite for rounds one and two but a slightly less engaging chapter 3 meant that she lost out to the, up to then, marginally less popular Carp and Erin. Zoe’s past interest carried no weight at this point. Carp and Erin were brilliant but, overall, were they the favourites?
Are we voting for characters or writers? – The writer of the character Dezzy (Heide) did a very good job of promoting the character of Carp in early chapters. Was Heide’s writing, from the perspective of Dezzy but about Carp, shooting herself in the foot?
Everyone wants to be Lara Croft/James Bond – The final three characters were a stuntwoman, a stone cold killer and a biker chick with a grudge. The ageing hipster and the stoner died first. Will the writer who selects to be a nubile ninja with a dark past automatically win? How can this be stopped?
The final chapter – did it work? – This was not necessarily helped by the judges being split between who should win but there was a question of whether the ending was satisfying on all the right levels. Did the writers need more guidance and structure even when their tale was almost told?
How can this be fixed? How can the fantastic Ten To One novel project avoid this pitfalls?
Go to the Ten To One Facebook page and offer us your thoughts:www.facebook.com/TenToOneNovel
Posted in 2013, Writing Tagged with: , , ,