CollaborativeCreativeWriting

Collaborative Story Writing is interesting and has the potential to produce interesting/captivating/satisfying fiction. Two new wiki have recently appeared to explore the potential of wiki as an environment for collaborative creative writing: WriteHere and SoLaSI. WriteHere is devoted to the actual writing itself, to housing the text, and to informal discussions of the texts. SoLaSI is devoted to (1) theoretical discussions of collaborative writing and HyperFiction? and (2) outlining goals and projects for WriteHere.

The discussion that started this page concerns mostly SoLaSI type stuff: How to get a successful collaborative narrative working.

Propositions

The major contentions are about how much pre-existing content (infrastructure) is required to create a successful collaborative narrative. AlexSchroeder has offered the work of Ken Newman from a Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Web Based Communities 2004, p. 83-90. From this paper, Alex culled the following important points:

  1. Character breakdown, a strategy used by TV series screenwriter collectives: The characters are described as a set of statements, which can be efficiently reused by other authors, eg. value system, quirks, approach to life.
  2. Multiple points of view, allowing stories to be retold from a different perspective by "fans" and people the teddybear met on the trip.
  3. Macro-narrative, underlying all "episodes" are some key features, points to be made that are not directly related to the character, nor to the narrators. These reflect the major issues and features of the narrative, the stuff you would see in a trailer: The trailer rarely has plot, characterization, or view-points: It's just a mess of the major themes that will appear in the movie, eg. the One ring, the dark riders, a mountain, walking trees, hobbits, and a huge battle.

Enough of this has to be decided before actually starting to write the first episode. There is some roome for change as time progresses, but as soaps illustrate, it is difficult to undertake major changes in the important issues.

This might explain why most collaborative story-telling efforts that try to connect one scene to the next seem to have failed in online communities. In that sense, playing on a MUSH with other people is far closer to what Ken talked about:

  1. You are encouraged to write up your own character breakdown because experienced role-players knows that it will help you react faster and act more consistently if you have such a breakdown at your hands.
  2. The various people interacting automatically provides various view-points. The objective "truth" in this kind of system is not really relevant, compared to what people say, since what people say defines nearly all of their MUSH environment.
  3. The macro-narrative is provided by the MUSH theme, and the existing environment (room descriptions, legends, gaming culture tradition).

All of the above seems useful and important.

Use of a Wiki: Project Rhizome

MattBowen started the Project Rhizome. His idea is that individual writers can add, edit, and interlink independent narratives themselves. In a way, authors write collaborative short stories. Hopefully collaborative editing and remixing existing works will yield new and interesting reading experiences. (See ProjectRemix.)

As themes and similar characters emerge, his hope is that the WikiProcess will take over and existing bits of the narrative will be forked and modified to fit together more coherently in a non-teleological narrative without definite openings or closure. The rhizome may have many points which feel like beginnings and many other that feel like endings, which is ok. It has the appeal of being big and having plenty of parts without restricting creativity.

The next step in this process would be that editors/critics would start reading the rhizome for certain themes and trends and create maps of the rhizome that highlight these themes. On wiki, any reader can build a map and take notes as they go along. Other readers can then add to the rhizome to give these maps more flesh and to change their themes. The deficiencies of the existing maps will hopefully prompt more additions to the rhizome. This will, in turn, create the need for more maps.

The WriteHere site is a basically a testbed for this idea.

Open questions that remain to be answered:

  1. Will the rhizome lead to a satisfying reading experience? How will it compare to sometimes frustrating and unwieldy projects like IN.S.OMNIA?
  2. Will using the Ken Plan produce a rhizome at all, or will we find yet another structure?
  3. How will the use of a wiki (where all the nodes can be edited) affect the hypertext compared to a system where you can only add more text without changing existing text?
  4. Are character interviews/outlines as mentioned above useful or required? Using the points from Ken’s paper could very well help to generate content that could later undergo the rhizome process.

The question of control is an important one that remains to be answered. Too much control stiffles creativity, but too little guidance invites confusion. Perhaps timing is important. If a group of writers were to write several related short stories like soap episodes using what we’ll call the Ken Plan, several themes should hopefully emerge and those writers may well wish to attempt the rhizome process on their collective efforts.

References, Related Reading

  1. Project Rhizome
  2. WikiRhizomeTheory
  3. CategoryRhizome
  4. Twisty Little Passages. ISBN 0-262-13436-5.
  5. Hypertext 2.0 by George P. Landow. ISBN 0-8018-5586-1.
  6. Patchwork Girl. ISBN 1-884-51123-6.
  7. Alex’s Blog
  8. NarraTheme

Related Issues

Narrative is used in some very influential ways in our society (law is decided by narrative currently, and history is almost always narrative, which then re-inspires law) – so a coherent system of assumptions that's pounded into Americans non-stop would make sense.

As for MattBowen's specific interests in narrative: Most of the work he has done so far is in how sequencing effects meaning, and how readers construct a meaningful work from a text. The basic assumption is that any text – be it Paradise Lost, J.M. Roberts’s History of the World, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, or a story you read in the newspaper – is dreadfully deficient in the information it can convey to the reader as to how the events related relate to one another. Furthermore, since you read in a linear way but multiple events may happen all at once, the sequence of the narrative cannot represent the situation which it codes. Thus, the sequence of the presentation is significant for the overall effect and meaning of the text/work. He thinks that an analysis shouldn't try to force a single meaning onto a text, but instead should try to give a model of the parts of a text then explain how they relate might relate to one another given different assumptions.

This analysis method is useful for closed narratives like books and articles. It gets more interesting for experimental, hypertext narratives like SoLaSI’s Project Rhizome. Suddenly, sequence is not stable or closed, and new elements can enter. This makes it (thankfully) impossible to impose a single meaning on a text, since the form of the text is very unstable.


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