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The joys of collaborative writing (NaNoWriMo – Day 11)

30 Days NaNoWriMo Meme – Day 11 – Ever tried collaborative writing (such as play-by-post roleplaying)?  If so, what do you think of it?


Yes, several times. Many years ago, I tried three different collaborative projects with three different friends. All the projects worked in the same way: one would write a section of the story, then the other would write the following section, then the first would write the next section yet, and so on. We would mail our section to each other – and I mean by snail mail, that’s how long ago that was.

Two of my friends had a very different style from me, both in terms of writing and creating a story. The result was certainly schizophrenic, but it was fun because it allowed me to confront myself not just with a different way of writing, but also with a different way to conceive the story. Sadly, both these projects ended up incomplete, although they both went along for a couple of years.

My third friend was very much like me, instead, so it’s maybe no surprise that the projects I worked with her were more productive and satisfying. We had different writing styles, but we liked the same kind of stories, the same kind of characters, and we handled them in a very similar way, we conceived stories in much the same way.

I worked at three different projects with her, we only completed one, but this was certainly the more forming experience for me. We exchanged lots of notes on plot, setting, background, characters’ reasons and personality. This was actually the first time I did such things, I mean, writing down my thoughts about all these elements. We would write different sections of stories, but we would write the same characters. At a certain point, we discovered we had different ideas about our characters’ reasons, but because we viewed their personality in much the same way, we were able to manage them coherently all the same. It was the first time I experienced that in storytelling, nothing is ever written in stone and that the same elements can be seen from different angles, and be effective, logical and functioning just the same.

Many years later I took part in a play-by-email RPG – and this time I mean email. I had my own character who would interact with all the other characters – we were six altogether if I remember. It went on for a couple of years, then the game-master terminated it for personal reasons.

This was another experience I enjoyed a lot and one that taught me another important thing: every story may evolve in many different ways, some of which are unexpected. Before that experience, I’d always been the one who decided what course the story would take. Even when I collaborated with my friends, we would decide together what would happen next – well, as far as this kind of things can be decided in advance. In these circumstances, it’s easy to think the story may only go one direction, that it could never move any other way. But in an RPG many characters interact, and as a writer, I only know what my own character thinks and feels. While playing, I didn’t have any way to foresee the story direction or the other characters’ reactions, though any of these elements could stir the story in a different direction any minute. This taught me to keep an open mind. To listen to the story and let it carry me more than I used to do before. It also taught me not to be scared by unexpected ideas and to reconsider everything which had happened up to that point. It taught me I am indeed free to make any change, if necessary.

If I could collaborate with a friend again, I’ll do it without a second thought.

The joys of collaborative writing: what co-writing stories has taught me abotu writing - I had a few experience of collaborative writing over the years. It's a challenging, but also so very educational for an author


  • Rebekah Loper
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 04:05

    I miss the ol’ days of roleplaying on the Plaza, and I’ve often thought of going back or finding something similar, but I just don’t have the time. I’d have to choose between that or actually writing, and I think the writing has to come first!

    • Post Author
      Posted November 16, 2014 at 11:33

      I enjoy roleplaying a lot myself, and I do miss the few occasions I had to play. But as you say, it’s one thing or the other, and at the moment, your choise is the same as mine ;-)

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