Oct 2, 2009

Taking Turns

"One-word-at-a-time" was one of the first types of collaborative writing that was explored at the Fiction Wikia. Participants were supposed to take turns adding one word at a time to a growing story. This type of collaboration is a good way to get new participants involved with wiki editing. A serious problem with this type of collaboration is that it only takes one person who is trying to be "random" to derail a developing story. I previously made this rather harsh statement:

"We really need tools that allow collaborators to choose exactly who can participate in a particular story writing effort. If someone is causing trouble, they must be excluded from the collaboration."

Another type of "taking turns" collaboration is "One-paragraph-at-a-time". According to the rules that were established for this collaboration, authors "don't discuss the plot with other authors". Such a restriction puts a serious strain on the process of collaboration. In my experience, good writing collaborations are built on good communication between authors. For example, live internet chat is a good tool that can be used by collaborating authors.

An option for writing collaboration that falls between "One-word-at-a-time" and "One-paragraph-at-a-time" would be to have authors take turns writing one sentence at a time. A recent experiment at Twitter comes close to this, but uses Twitter's arbitrary 140 character size limit for successive contributions. The collaboration is called abookduct. Using Twitter to do a writing collaboration that can be coherently sustained through time is a serious challenge. Before I could participate I had to create a document where I could put together the individual tweets all in one place. Hopefully there will soon be a website where these growing stories from Twitter can be compiled (update: see this website). In any case, this is an interesting example of how to use social media to start writing collaborations and find potential collaborating authors.

I suggest that tweets starting with

#abookduct #001a #m

can contain information about the story (not actual story content). "m" is for "meta", and a meta-tweet helps authors of the story communicate useful information that can aid in collaboration. For details on how to participate see

Image. Sierpinski pyramid by Peter Bertok. License: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

1 comment:

  1. Hey John,

    I think collaboration by sentences has a nice size and rhythm to it, but word by word sounds to be an exquisite concept. I'm trying not to limit what people can do, and risking it end up completely non-sense. It's twitter, and after all I think the means are more important than the end. It's not too likely someone will be reading collaborative short stories except the ones who had a hand in it (I might be proven wrong though), so might as well let those people have fun while creating them, I think this is what it's about in my case.

    You can already see a website over at, hopefully it will ease up on catching up a bit. More is to come.

    Be Szpilman