Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: Collaborative writing project

I've been toying with a little writing experiment that would involve contributions from my readers and I'm curious to see if there's any support for this. Back in school, did any of you ever do a "round robin" writing exercise? The way it works is that one person starts writing a story, and then hands it off to the next person in their group after a predetermined limit is met (either a paragraph, a page or a chapter.) Then that person picks up and sends the story in whatever direction they like before passing it on to the next person. Collaborative

My idea is to try something like this with a screenplay. I'd write the first ten pages, doing my best to toss enough balls in the air that the following writers would have plenty of material to work with. Then, each writer after me would pick up, adding ten pages to the total and advancing the story as appropriate. There'd be no master plan, no treatment, no previously agreed-upon plot. This would work best if each writer tried their best to work within a three-act structure and be mindful of how the story usually "needs" to advance at the point they're dealing with within the three-act structure.

Aside from that, there'll also be a "non-denial" rule in place. This is common in improv. What it means is that you can't deliberately contradict something that's been put into play. In improv, if a character says, "Boy, life is great here on the moon," another character cannot say, "You're wrong, this is Alabama." Also, there will be no revisions allowed to previous pages. Each writer is bound by what has come before.

Ideally, I'd have at least eight people willing to participate, and each writer would have a week to turn in their ten pages. If I get a lot more than eight, then I might start two groups going at the same time with the initial ten pages. If so, that could lead to some interesting results, as we'd see how two groups starting with the same initial premise could end up with completely different results by the end.

If the results are interesting enough, perhaps we'll even toss the script up on a peer review site that's unaware of the screenplay's lineage. It'll be an interesting experiment in seeing if those reviewers detect any odd blips in story construction and characterization.

If you're interested in being a writer in this little game, shoot me an email at zuulthereader@gmail.com. Tell me a little bit about yourself and the movies you like too. If we have more than one group going, I might try to mix up the writer's roster a bit.


  1. I like this. Did something similar with a Heroes group on facebook back when Heroes was in Season 1 and still interesting. We had over 10 consistent writers adding chapters to the story right after the other. It was very amateurish and not in script format, but it was fun. I enjoyed the challenges you're faced with as a writer constructing a story out of elements placed by someone else.

  2. Whenever I have seen this attempted in fiction, when it came time to add their bit, the participants added a few more characters and took the plot in an entirely new direction, almost as if they were starting over with their own story.

    Imagine that.

    It should be doable; I've just never seen it work.

  3. Bitter mentioned improv, and that would be a good approach to take with something like this: heighten and support what has already been established.

  4. @Wolf - I know when I've seen it go wrong it is mostly because the foundation was weak and the participants were "jump-in-and-enjoy" so their takeaway did not meet the original goal.

    Zuul seems to be attacking both potential issues by starting the script and plugging in enough elements for writers to build off, and by screening those that are interested in participating.

    I would think (or hope) that most of the frequent readers here that participate will share a similar goal.

  5. I'm actually doing the exact same thing with my writing partner now. We're waiting for notes from the manager on our latest draft so we're writing a script where we swap after every 3-5 pages. No plan on where it's going. It's so much fun.

  6. sounds like great fun.

    tho' - anyone else have a crippling insecurity that their amatuerish additions will spoil the whole thing?

    (hence I haven't emailed you Bitter)...