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Related: Software for collaborative writing for a small team

I know there a few notable examples of open collaborative writing, but they haven't really taken off. On the other hand, collaborative resource platforms like wikis and fanart thrive. I doubt highly experienced and well-rounded authors would put time into an "open-source", so ideally some roles would surface.

  1. Story drivers: People with a strong sense of character development and experience driving a story forward.
  2. Scene developers: People with the ability to take a story and add the content around it.
  3. Validators: People with the ability to take in partial or full content and revise it for plot hole.
  4. Editors: People who excel at polishing the shape.
  5. Verificators: People who are avid and excellent readers, willing to provide feedback.

Is anything of the sort viable, and are there good resources pointing at why it can or cannot be done? I enjoying writing every now and then, but I lack the story driving strength, and my characters tend to be quite dull. My shape is much better, so the idea of creating an open team of people contributing with their strengths seems to make sense. There is the obvious glaring problem of monetization!

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  • Sounds like SCP might fit the bill for you. One of the reasons it works is that the majority of the works are written in a standardized format (they are reports of unusual behaving items that a pseudo-government organization is tasked with containing. As such, they read as clinical as possible, documenting observed phenomena with no hint of dramatic telling.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 10:42
  • Are you designing a 'creative project' that is a one-off and done? Or a 'collective' (ie: a corporation) that keeps doing this potentially forever?
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 17:02
  • I know of SCP, and it's one of the things that inspired the idea. @wetcircuit My goal as an individual is to design the tool/engine/process to enable coherent collaboration, much like SCP has done, but rather than a collection of short stories, it creation of novellas. The closest answer is probably the second, to create a potentially forever-recurring process.
    – OFRBG
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 17:34
  • @hszmv As much as I think SCP is an amazing example of distributed authorship, it places a constraint on not having a character-driven story.
    – OFRBG
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 17:39
  • The tasks you list are not really collaborators in a writing task, especially 3 and 5, and usually 4.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 19:46

5 Answers 5

1

It's been done before with the book series The 39 Clues. I don't know how many authors worked on it, but the Wikipedia page for the series lists 14 people. Considering that it ran for 8 years (2008 - 2016), had 26 books in the main series, and was a New York Times Best Seller I would probably guess it did pretty well.

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I tried something like this in late 2020 to mid 2022, but took it down recently as it had not taken off at all and I didn't see the need to keep checking on it so I removed everything.

The idea was that there was a website where people could download all the stories for free that were all part of a collaboratively built world set in a post-apocalyptic future (with magic and fantasy elements too) and anyone could write stories (or create other forms of art) to send to me and I would proofread them and add them to the website. I didn't know how to get the word out properly and so I ended up not getting anyone other than me and 2-3 friends to contribute any stories or art.

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I think there are two different paths here:

  • Project based
  • Team based

A project needs to be well defined with clear "output", where everyone can contribute with their own small part.

A team would be a group of (more or less) the same people who over time makes stuff.

If you go the team route, I think it boils down chemistry and how well you work together.

All members need to be on the same level of ambition, both on how much time they spend on the project, and on what they want the "project to be".

Another thing is that all members need to be able to put their ego aside. They need to understand that the project/story is more important than getting their own ideas in it.

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At a panel discussion at a science fiction convention I attended, Larry Niven once said that a collaboration is where two authors each do 90% of the work.

To get any sort of cooperative writing project to work you need to have authors who are interested, motivated, and actually do some work. This is hard enough at the best of times.

Various writing projects have worked where each author does some "chunk" of the writing. A chapter, for example. Or a short story in an anthology. Or in a series of books each author does one book. Some of those projects have been mentioned in other answers. In that chunk, the author has pretty much got full control. The project is held together by the premise, and possibly by a project "bible" that lists various context details, background information, and assumptions for the project. Say it's a science fiction story, then what tech is available, what cultures exist, who the important people are, what events are well known so cannot change, etc. It's quite usual for such a scheme to operate in long-running TV shows. As the project grows, the project bible grows, gets better organized, etc.

Your suggested roles are troubling. The idea that you would have one person who does the scenes and another who does the story is, well, kind of off-putting. It's a bit like you plan breakfast to involve one person to chew and another to swallow. I doubt you would get many good authors to go along with such a scheme.

And if you did, you are likely to get some pretty bad writing. The style would be, at best, a horrible mish-mash.

Set out to have each author (or at most a small group of authors, like two, in a self-selected group) to each do some definite chunk. Chapter, short story, episode, story line, one-book-in-a-series, etc. Then you are much more likely to get something that works and is interesting to read.

Having editors and test readers is OK. Having somebody "fill in plot holes" is going to cause good authors to start looking for the exit.

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I like the five roles you defined, and they would work well as part of a hybrid publishing collective of some kind... but I've tried to start such a thing with a friend of mine, and it didn't go well. Maybe we just didn't do it right! One reason it didn't gain momentum was our insistence that everyone be equal participants, we didn't take really firm leadership roles, we just created the structure and opportunity and promoted the benefits of it at a few writers' events, with absolutely zero interest. If I were to try again, I would recruit a couple more partners at the beginning, run it as a business not a collaboration, and market it as a publishing venture, something that people already understand.

But there are other ways of fostering collaboration. How about Eric Flint's Grantville Gazette? Flint created the 1632 storyworld and provides overall executive-editor control, but anyone can submit stories and participate in the online discussions. Several contributors have become published co-authors with Flint and then novelists in their own right, under Flint's patronage and in the 1632 milieu.

This is more of a mentor-led model than an "equal-peers" model, but having participated in a couple of peer-to-peer online collaborations, a leader or two (or three) emerge pretty quickly, and that person(s) does the lion's share of the work. Everyone else puts in their two cents and demands a 50% share in the end ("um, there are seven contributors here, you're not getting more than 1/7th, and let's talk about your participation..."). So maybe a patron/mentor model isn't so bad.

It's the sort of thing that LTUE and Flights of Foundry encourage in a cheerfully chaotic way, and Writers of the Future offers an organizational framework that actively fosters it. Participation is well paid, and thus highly competitive. (...yes, LRH started WotF back in the day, but he's been dead a long time, and it honestly does not seem like a recruiting tool for Scientology... if it is, it sucks pretty bad for that purpose)

Palisatrium's "Short Story" substack (https://shortstory.substack.com/about) is really just a stripped-down literary magazine, one story per month, but somehow it works... whoever's story wins publication that month (palisatrium is the editor, I don't know their real name, tbh) gets $100 plus 50% of whatever the subscriber revenue is that month, plus a good deal of publicity and another publishing credit for their byline. Is it really "collaborative"? No more than any anthology or lit mag, but it's run in a way that makes it feel either like a collab or a contest, depending on your perspective.

I would love to encourage more people to organize more "collaborative writing projects," especially those that could use the blockchain to objectively keep track of how much the various contributors contribute, which ones honor their commitments, how much is earned, how much is paid to whom, etc. That would make collaboration "trustless" in a sense. A friend of mine, Jonathan Jaech, would like to launch such a thing, and he's an IP attorney who understands blockchain stuff. But he's had trouble ginning up interest among authors, editors, illustrators, etc.

I guess it seems like any collaborative writing project is either going to be a few friends who already know and trust one another who agree to work together (and hopefully write up an agreement that will clarify the collaboration and protect the friendship!) or something that a strong leader or organization puts together, creating an environment in which collaboration can happen but which doesn't rely on collaboration as a management tool; something with guidelines and vetting and accountability of one kind or another.

Whether that looks like Writers of the Future, or Flights of Foundry, or a writers' society (or local college) that encourages collaborative workshops, or a solo-mentoring-effort-that-grows like Eric Flint's Grantville Gazette community, they are all opportunities to collaborate with other authors and hopefully reap some benefit from it yourself.

And create great stuff for our readers!

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