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.