The problems with collaboration.

The success of wikipedia has shown us that coherent pieces of text can be written by several users over time. Sure, there are the few cases of vandalism, but 750,000+ articles is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the power of collaborative writing.

“But hold on there,” I can hear you say, “writing a factual article on tree sap is completely different than writing an creative piece of fiction.”

Very true. And this is the ‘problem’. How can you write a coherent story when you have multiple people pulling the story in multiple ways? Before we address that issue, lets look at the art of writing fiction.

Over the years I’ve read several books on how to write. A familiar theme in these books was the fact that while one person does the actual writing, a story is still shaped and molded by more than just the author. For example, both Steven King and Orson Scott Card have said the first thing they do after writing a chapter is show it to one or more trusted sources. They want feedback. They ask questions such as; what works? What doesn’t work? What have I missed? They then go back and rewrite the story based on that feedback. Sometimes the book goes in an entirely different vein based on this kind of feedback.

Then there are the editors who look for punctuation and grammatical errors, technical errors (first you say it’s Tuesday, and now suddenly it’s Friday), etc. etc. etc. Although the core of the story belongs to the author, and they ultimately have the final say in what appears in the book, I don’t think there are many authors who say, “I wrote this book by myself, in a vacuum, and nobody helped me.” Just look in the acknowledgments page to see who helped mold and shape the book.

So, the problem of wiki fiction is that you will never get a coherent story when multiple authors are trying to drive the story a different way. But that problem is solved when we realize that normal fiction is also being pulled by different sources. The difference is that there is one author who ultimately gets to say what happens to the story. I don’t know what you would call this role; the original author, head author, whatever… But their role is to write the initial ‘kernal’ of a story (it may be just an idea, or it may be a well crated piece of work), and then guide that story through the many edits that will come by multiple authors.

It is interesting to note that writing in a wiki environment simply gives more ‘access’ to those sources who help shape the story. It empowers them in a way that hasn’t happened before. What will be the result?

I don’t know.

I want to talk more about the role of this head author, but that will have to wait for another day. I also want to talk about how this role as a head author is crucial, not only to the creation of a good story, but will also also be important from an instructional standpoint. Again, that will be a topic for another day.

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One Response to The problems with collaboration.

  1. Kami says:

    So, would you recommend that FanFiction would be a better venue for a collaborative work. However, I guess that FanFiction doesn’t allow for truly novel works since you build on existing media (at least that what I understand). It sounds like there is a need for a specific site or programming that would allow for what you describe. I think that this would be a great disseration topic. Have you come closer to a decision on that topic yet?

    Hey, I was going to send to you a document that I wrote for Brett but realized that I didn’t know your most recent email. I forget that you are no longer at weber (so sad). Anyway, the piece that I wrote was very different for me and involved feigned sarcasm and humor. I was worried that Brett would think that I was a freak, so I wanted to pass it by you first. You already know that I am a freak, LOL.

    Missed you at AECT, talk to you later.

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