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Flexible Collaborative Writing

Of the potential banes to collaborative writing, one in particular is lack of flexibility. What I mean by that is a story, or even environment as a whole, that is not conducive to player involvement, interaction, and retention. Many things may contribute to such, and some are often unavoidable, like the sheer volume of written material.

Problems stemming from inflexibility:

  • Overwhelming Content – when the prerequisite to becoming involved is reading a large quantity of material, that can form a barrier to players who would otherwise participate.
  • Obstructing Contributions – holding an iron fist around what is occurring in the story, and maintaining a regimental environment, obstructs opportunities for others to contribute. 
  • Poor Integration – a closed or tedious environment can make it awkward for those who are trying to involve themselves in the story.

To provide an example of the above items, imagine a story involving a group of friends playing a criminal, a victim, and a police officer. The setting is the criminal’s cellar, where he tortures his victim until the police officer comes and arrests him, rescuing the victim. This restricts the ways a fourth party could become involved, making for an example of poor integration. The basement environment is not conducive to people just wandering on in and participating. As an outsider, I would feel as though there was nothing to contribute without railroading the story.

Tools for developing flexibility:

  • Open Writing – write in such a way that it is easy for people to respond to you, such as posing a question to nobody in particular or walking up to a vendor in a market square and inquiring of the local news.
  • Length and Style – keep your posts of relatively average length, so others don’t spend an excessive amount of time reading them. By the same token, don’t make them too short, otherwise you won’t be able to keep their interest. Also write in a style that is familiar, and not overly obtuse. A narrative, third-person style seems to be the most typical.
  • Acknowledging Others – when another person posts, do what you can to acknowledge what they’ve written; for example, noticing they’ve entered the area or responding to something they’ve said.
  • Maintaining a Summary – just a short list of what has happened thus far, so people can quickly know what is happening or, if they have a poor memory, can recall it with relative easy.
  • Foreshadowing - provide all the involved parties a sense of direction, so when they sit down to write they have focus. This can be done either by foreshadowing in the actual writing or by less discrete methods such as providing a summary of objectives, both short and long term, that is readily available for everyone to read.
  • Autonomy - don’t let your character become trapped in a situation where you’re utterly reliant on other players if you wish to move forward.

Discussion

3 comments for “Flexible Collaborative Writing”

  1. On RPGFO we are currently trying to rebuild a persistent world, though through unconventional means. I noticed how relevant your article was and so have started up a discussion using it as a starting point. Most relevant and important for persistent worlds I find Overwhelming Content, and wholeheartedly agree with your proposed solution of maintaining a summary, though even when I convinced members of a roleplay to help keep the summary current, no new players joined and the roleplay lost its momentum and died out. While summaries are important, I’ll be taking a closer look at your other proposed tools to see if some core combination can keep a roleplay viable.

    Posted by Yuriy Zubovski | May 15, 2009, 11:57 am
  2. Thanks for your comment, Yuriy.

    Yes, a persistent world is a very good example of where a running summary can be vital to the longevity of collaborative writing. They are also very nuanced, and likely deserve an entire article devoted just to optimizing their structure to make it easier for people to jump on in and stay in.

    I will be keeping tabs on your discussion and look forward to your discoveries.

    Posted by Circ | May 16, 2009, 10:21 am
  3. [...] posts in their archive include: Building Mood Through Perception, Flexible Collaborative Writing, Turning a Simple Sentence into a Paragraph, and Roleplay Dynamics – Hooks and Entry [...]

    Posted by Gaming Resources : Capturing Fantasy: Where Role Playing and Creative Writing Meet New World of Darkness | July 14, 2009, 5:48 pm

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