home | changes | index | login

Story flows from character

''<Brennen> See Brent's collaborative fiction attempt elsewhere. It might be good to explain Why the collaborative fiction experiment failed, which for me will probably go under just not feeling it.''

Premise: collaborative fiction requires '''context'''. We need to have a common set of information so that we don't go caroming off in random directions.

Fantasy author Robert Jordan has stated, "Story flows from character." All right; so there's a need to define some characters, so that there's a common context for the story to be written.

But a story is more than a collection of characters. There need to be a few '''plot points''' planned out by the community so that a writer will know what to write towards.

But a story is more than a collection of characters and plot points. There also needs to be some underlying '''themes''' to the story. The spine.

Our first attempt at this is The Band.


What does character flow from? It can be said that character flows from action (or inaction). What people do, or do not do. Can you define characters just by giving them a set of described attributes?

Well, attributes can define action. Take an angry man prone to violence -- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, for example -- and put him in the same situation that a Zen Master is placed in. Would they react the same? Clearly not.

'''Traditional Collaborative Fiction'''

Let's look at the traditional method of collaborative fiction. In this method, the first person writes a line, sentence, or paragraph on a piece of paper, then hands it to the next person, who writes the next line, sentence, or paragraph. This continues until the story comes to a conclusion. Digital versions follow the same method; each author is simply required to add to the end of the file.

In this traditional system, each person has complete control of the story temporarily, and can send it in any direction. In my experience, this leads to frustration for each author, because as soon as they hand off the story, their direction and authorial control is compromised. Any contribution may be (radically) altered at any time. Worse, who's to say when somebody is making a contribution that improves the story?

On the other hand, it's entirely possible to collaboratively write something in the "traditional" fashion described above, ''if and only if'' context is implicit. It has worked, beautifully sometimes -- but it has to be between people who are really, really in tune. I suspect this is why shared ''oral storytelling'' can emerge much more easily and gracefully than shared ''written fiction''. (Yes, I realize that's an unsupported assertion. But think about your life.) It's certainly a big part of why collaborative fiction efforts on the web have tended to suck giant rocks -- it's not just that most people cannot write, it's also that people who are really, truly, deeply in tune with one another (especially over an abstract, textual, anything-but-realtime medium of exchange) are not that common.

'''On Context'''

Collaboration is based on context. If two people are collaborating on writing a program, for example, they must both know a number of things, including:

What the program is supposed to do

Constraints on the final program ("It must run in under 10 seconds" or "It can't take up more than one megabyte of disk space")

The programming language the program is written in

The target operating system

Coding standards

I believe that collaborative fiction writing cannot succeed -- or will only succeed very rarely -- unless all the writers understand the common context. Who is being written about? Where is the story going, at least in the short- to mid-term? Are we writing a horror story? A mystery?

With the system proposed here, the authors have a common context. They know roughly where the story is going (and the characters involved), and can push the story in that direction. Moreover, an author can slip in and change existing content to better reflect the direction of the story and/or the true nature of the characters, and that change will be instantly recognizable as a net positive or negative effect on the story.

This is why it's recommended that we define a context. Who are our characters? What's the setting? What kind of story are we writing (or, more importantly, what kind of story are we ''not'' writing, e.g., "Let's not turn this into an action-adventure story")?

See also Dissenting opinion on collaborative fiction.

Contributors: Brent, Brennen, influence from Saalon.

pick a name (required to comment or edit a page)
last edited July 16, 2005