November 24, 2011

The Collaborative Project

I mentioned earlier on the blog that we had all taken on some projects during our break from publishing HBM. For me, this meant working a little on video game writing ideas and a little on nothing at all. Then, Duane, Vincent, and I decided to write a truly collaborative piece. For those who don't know, Issue 3 of Here Be Monsters (called "Where Cities Tread") was made up of three stories that were all set in the same world. We'd designed the concept together, but each story was still written by the author on his own. During the summer though, we started on a story that was actually written by all three of us.

To do this, we used Google Docs. It allowed us to write on the same page at once, comment on eachother's writing, all while chatting from our computers at our separate houses. I'd known about the tool before this, but to see it in action was pretty incredible. During our first session, we were brainstorming all kinds of ideas. Characters, themes, rules about the story, publication plans, everything was pouring out faster than we could have done around a kitchen table (our usual meeting room).

There was even some healthy debate going on about ethics, religion in fiction, all sorts of things. And, keep in mind, this is with 3 passionate writers, so the fact that we were able to keep it to "healthy debate" is a testament to how well we get along and work together.

The plot was slower to come together than some of the other parts, but we had enough to start with. So, each of us began writing from a separate point in the story. I was doing a scene between two characters, going back and forth, when I got stuck. I wrote "I'm stuck" on the screen just so that the guys knew why I'd stopped, and then the amazing thing happened. Vincent picked up right from where I'd left off and continued the scene. He stayed true to everything I'd written so far but brought the story forward in a way I wasn't expecting. And I was totally on-board with it.

For those of you who are writers, or even other artists, you can probably imagine how scary it could be to work together in this way. You see all of eachother's mistakes before they can be corrected, you're required to buy in to other people's ideas and hope they buy into yours -- But this worked. Really really well. We all ended up tagging in and out like this as we formed the first few scenes of the story. It was so exciting.

Sadly, the project did get put on hold, but that's okay. It led us back to Here Be Monsters and a new issue. Also, it proved that we could do it. I don't doubt that we'll pick it up again. Whether it will end up as an HBM publication of some kind, I don't know, but it was too fun to not follow through on.



  1. We also spent some time channelling the ghost of Micheal Crighton.

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  3. Alex,

    It is very interesting to read about collaborative writing. I did not think that this feat was possible! I wonder, do you ever get upset or discouraged when the plot takes on a different direction than what you had imagined it to take? If this happens, how do you deal with the other writers? What conclusions do you come to in this "healthy debate?"

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Alex,

    It sounds like the use of Googledocs was a successful experience for brainstorming. What strategies did you use in order to keep the conversation structured? Do you have any advice to give others who may want to use the tool for collaborative brainstorming?

  5. Hello. Thanks for your comments!

    To the first poster: I didn't get upset at the changes to the plot, though that is certainly a possiblity with a project like this. We had a couple of ways of dealing with this. One was a ground rule that we set out that said we wouldn't deny any of the other writer's ideas. It was kind of like the "Yes and..." rule of improv theatre. We had time to edit later; during the writing process, it was okay to just throw it all out there. I think the other thing that helped was that we didn't know exactly where the story was going, so none of us had too many expectations.

    To the second poster: When we used Google docs, we started by creating headings. For us, it was "Ground Rules", "Setting", "Characters", "Plot Ideas", etc. We tried to write under an appropriate heading as we went. We also did some clean-up after the sessions to re-organize everything that got jumbled while we were all writing together. One thing that took us a while to get used to was using the chat and comment system instead of writing comments into the text. I found that it was much easier to tell what was content and what wasn't once we got that down.

    I hope that answers your questions. Please feel free to post more if you have them.