Penguin Books has just completed a fascinating project, at a millionpenguins.com,which was a collaborative novel written entirely by volunteers on a wiki site.
As their introduction notes,
“The buzz these days is all about the network, the small pieces loosely joined. About how the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. About how working together and joining the dots serves the greater good and benefits our collective endeavours. . . .
However, is the same true in artistic fields? We are used to the romantic notion of the artist or the novelist working alone in an attic room, or in the shed at the bottom of the garden. . . . Can a collective create a believable fictional voice? How does a plot find any sort of coherent trajectory when different people have a different idea about how a story should end – or even begin? “
You can read the novel that resulted from Penguin’s experiment here. Also, if you click on the discussion tab, you can view all the different threads of discussion that occurred while it was being written, as well as discussions of the process. (They eventually decided to shut it down for a few hours a day so volunteers could “clean it up” and organize.)
The participants actually worked together across continents and time to sort of the structure of the novel, how to write it on the wiki, characters, etc.
For example, after some struggle about the organization of it, one contributor took it upon herself to help organize the plot:
“Hi All – someone mentioned the idea of a “story arc” to help us get a sensible plot structure. . . .To get round this, I have set up a story arc page and a chapter summary page for each chapter. If people could summarise each chapter and refer to these summaries then hopefully we can build up a sensible timeline for events in the story.”
Others created sections about characters to work out how they would be handled.
It’s a fascinating project. According to Business Week, as of March 5, they had 75,000 visitors and over 1300 contributors to the novel.
What a great project for students, and again proof of the power of collaboration and the role of web 2.0 tools.