As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Arrens and I have been doing some collaborative writing about an in-character relationship and other things to come. In the true sense of the word “collaborate”, neither of us has written much on our own, but we’ve worked together to pull our characters into something that is, at least in my opinion, WAY better than anything I could write by myself. (Arrens is an excellent writer, and his characters are a lot of fun to work with!) You’ve also seen writing that Bricu and I have done, as well as writing that Yva and I did together.
If you couldn’t tell? Collaboration in roleplay is fun. Lots of fun.
However, there’s a lot more that goes into writing something with another person than just opening a Google Document or email and chugging away. (more on Google Documents later)
The big, major, important thing is communication.
I know, you’re all super surprised that I’m bringing THAT up again. But it’s true! Without out of character communication – either in some kind of chat program or in a “comments section” in the document you’re working on, collaboration will end up stifled. Or, as Bricu put it this morning, your RP will suck. (You should all go read that post, btw? Great story. I’ll wait for you to get back!)
So how do you make this work?
Have an idea. Share the idea. Get excited about the idea, as you and your intended partner in crime writing sort out just where this could go. Develop some background. Maybe you had a brilliant flash of inspiration and wrote up the beginning of a scene, or maybe you were drinking your coffee and thought to yourself “I wonder what would happen if…”. A great deal of the fun of working together is shared excitement. This is the brainstorming part, so don’t be afraid to toss out really crazy, left-field thoughts just to see where they go. Not all ideas make good fiction, but not having any ideas is worse!
I’m a big fan of using some kind of instant message program along side of writing, since it takes me out of the actual document and makes me look at it from an exterior perspective, as well as fostering idea-tossing. This communication about ideas should continue throughout the writing process – and might even spawn off other bits of fiction, blog posts, or in-game RP!
My preferred weapon of choice for collaborative writing is Google Documents. I have, and use, Google Wave, but right now it suffers from bloat problems – and bloat is REALLY annoying when you’re trying to do a 2K word story with someone else. Google Docs allows you to create a shared word processing document that multiple people can edit at the same time.
Email is another effective method, whether in the content of the email itself or just to forward back and forth a saved document that the other person can add to and then save and send back. Even Forum Private-Messages can be used for this, as can chat programs. Basically any application that lets both you and another person contribute to a piece of writing is usable (though obviously some are easier than others, at least when it comes to editing later on).
There are two major branches of collaborative writing. One has each person writing small sections, back and forth. The other has one person controlling both/multiple characters and then getting input on making them fit their author’s imagination, with multiple writers taking on long sections. Neither is better than the other, and they both require a good deal of communication. I tend to find that the more interaction there is between characters, the more “back and forth” will happen in a piece of fiction, but your mileage may vary, particularly if you are very familiar with and comfortable with the other character.
Etiquette of Shared Writing
- Don’t type over each other – Either use a chat program to say “ok, your turn now”, or type a little note at the bottom that says “I’m done, you take over for awhile.”
- Talk about any major changes you want to make – If you think a paragraph would be better served moved somewhere else within writing that you yourself have done, this is less important, but major flow changes can screw up later dialogue, so at least warn the other person.
- Adjust your character’s dialogue if necessary – I get called into a lot of writing to turn normal conversation into “Aely speak”. That’s fun, and something that any character should feel comfortable with, particularly if they have any kind of idiomatic or accented speech.
- If you need help with something, hilight it and keep writing. The beauty of internet documents is that the other writer can come in and look at it/fix it up!
Putting it all together
Once you have the actual writing part done, all that’s left is to edit it and figure out if/when/where it gets posted! Of course, sometimes the editing part takes longer than the writing part, depending on how much the story changes through the writing. Deciding when something will happen can be tricky as well, especially if it has long-reaching consequences for any of the characters in-game. Just because you’ve finished a fic about some major event doesn’t mean that it’s automatically happened.
Choosing where to post it – or even if it should get posted – can be the hardest decision of all, especially if (like me) you have a blog, the other person has a blog, and there are multiple guild forums involved! Some things are easier to write up and then keep between the writers as background/emotional fodder for the characters, but usually once a story is finished, I want it to get read!
Still on the communication part though, make sure that everyone involved with the story is OK with its posted destination (and thinks its finished!).
What Collaboration is Not
Collaboration is not editing. It’s not having someone else help you tell your story. (That’s the subject of a different post!) While getting help sorting out a story is a good thing, especially if you’re stuck, dead ended, or just unsure of how to make everything work, that’s just getting help with a story. Collaboration requires that two or more people be actively contributing to the story – it’s a group effort, rather than getting help with a solo effort.
Aely’s Wrathgate Story was, almost entirely, a solo effort with moments of collaboration. Tarquin and Jolstraer both had sections where their writing was prominent or intermixed with mine, but most of those posts were my own, even when I got help figuring out how to get from point A to point B.
The stories linked at the top of this post, however, were written in collaboration – two equal authors where both of the characters involved were affected by/involved in the story.
I highly recommend working with other writers when it comes to RP.
Sometimes my ideas suck, and sometimes they don’t – by working with someone else whose writing and creativity I like and trust? We sort out the suck from the good – and turn the good into awesome.
There’s a very good reason for the saying “Two heads are better than one”. Take advantage of it!
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