Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday 20 May 2018

Three things I’ve learned about writing interactive fiction

Emily’s detailed description of the process of the writing and the wonderful experiences she had with all who advised, supported and instructed her shows a depth of feeling and intention to deliver a meaningful reading experience that is exemplary.

The first two books in my interactive fiction series, The Freedom Finders, are out now.  I’m currently working on the third one, and later this year will begin the fourth!  Each book follows the journey of a child migrant to Australia at a different point in Australian history.  As I’d never written interactive fiction before, and never been a published author before, I’ve learned a lot since I began!  Here are some things I wish I’d known then…
1.      Don’t repeat yourself
When I wrote the first book, Break Your Chains, I thought that readers would probably only follow one storyline through the maze of choices, until they reached a happy ending!  So, when scenes covered similar content, I replicated whole paragraphs. My editor immediately told me there was no way I could do that, because some readers would explore every possible path through the story and get bored when they encountered copied paragraphs again and again! That seems obvious to me now, but it wasn’t then. The whole plot structure had to be re-worked and many scenes vigorously pruned and re-written.

2.      Keep track of time
All interactive fiction starts off with a single scene, then choices and paths branch off from there.  Sometimes these paths meet up again in another shared scene down the track, and it’s important that the time-lines are congruent: that the same amount of time has elapsed for the character on each pathway, so that they can arrive at the same shared point in time.  I was pretty fuzzy about this to begin with, and gaily tossed around references to ‘spring’, ‘the rainy season’, or ‘months spent aboard the ship’ with nary a care for how many grey hairs this would cause everyone down the track as they tried to untangle these timelines! Now I am keeping a detailed timeline for each book that charts the months, seasons, major historical events, and story paths simultaneously. My editor is ridiculously proud of me.

3.      Community consultation is key
My publisher, editor, and I always knew it was going to be crucial to do thorough consultation with other cultural groups represented in the story.  But when I started writing, I could never have anticipated how much these relationships were going to end up meaning to me, and how much their input would shape the books.  When the Tasmanian Aboriginal elder Theresa Sainty gave the Aboriginal character Waylitja his name, I drove home nearly in tears: I felt like she’d named a part of me.  When my dear Somali friend Hani Abdile read the first draft of Touch the Sun and messaged me to say it was ‘just like being there’, I whooped and jumped for joy.  These were some of the highlights of the whole writing process, and these relationships give the books their authenticity. 
I’ve learned much more than these three things, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do so, thanks to Allen and Unwin and all my fantastic mentors.
Emily Conolan
Teacher, Author and refugee advocate

Break Your Chains and Touch the Sun are already available, with two more titles to follow later this year.


  1. Congratulations Emily! Excellent advice. cheers, a 'north islander' recently moved down to paradise, Dawn.

  2. What an insightful learning journey Emily has been on, no doubt the lessons learnt and still being learnt will deepen her knowledge and understanding of the writing process. This genre has huge potential to enthuse readers and give them the opportunity to make differentiated choices as well as learning about different life journeys and cultures. Well done Emily!