I was recently lucky enough to sit in on a workshop in which a group of seven or eight total novices, lead by an experienced translator and screenwriter, very successfully put the finishing touches to a brand new full translation of the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck. I'd heard about the project from friends who were involved and was dying to see the working method and dynamics for myself. At this stage, the translation had been more or less fitted to the score by individuals working on pieces of the text separately, so a lot of the heavy lifting had been done already, and it was a matter of bringing everything together for the final edit. I was expecting it to be chaos, but was blown away by the whole thing. From the beginning, they had set out a ground rule that they would not move on from a line until the entire room was happy with it, so absolutely everybody in the room was involved in a decision. They took this rule so seriously that the 'final edit' took exactly 12 hours to complete. Any disagreements were resolved in discussion, with nobody raising their voices once, despite the tired heads and long day. And it's a bloody impressive piece of work too.
My questions are these- would this set-up work in any other situation, with any other group of people? Is it possible to make this kind of totally democratic collaboration a general model in writing practice? Or if you've written collaboratively before, how on earth did you make it work?
That is a collaborative story game I run on that forum, although those collaborative stories are not generally as well handled as you talk about your collaborative story being. Some of them are quite alright, but I've been doing collaborative stories for about a decade on that forum, although those people tend to be history-geeks rather than literary minds, but there are several literary folk who do stuff there.
The things are tough to moderate, you always have problems with how much structure you need to provide versus how much freedom to allow your collaborators, and the way that the collaborative story has developed on that forum many of them are simply designed as elaborate boardgames with "storytelling elements," due to the crowd that participates.
But in my experience they can be quite a rewarding experience, you always have prompts and people always read your stories because they affect the stories that they can write, so you can get a ton of feedback. They are also a lot of fun.
Liz, that does sound fascinating. It sounds like you were observing some solid professionals there as well as a group with some good chemistry. As we all know, that is not always the case when great minds and egos collide. But when a team can set their own selfish motives aside and listen then I agree that the rewards of such collaborations can be immense.
From what I understand (and there are plenty around this site who could offer enlightenment in this area) book publishing is actually quite the collaborative process. Authors, agents, editors and publishers all work together albeit behind the scenes, to produce the books that we see on the shelves.
Amazing. I wonder, Liz, did they use an anonymous voting system to declare whether they were happy with the line?
The film 12 Angry Men teaches a lot about group decision-making and its flaws when approached as a typical social discussion. If you haven't seen it, I implore you to do so. It's about a jury that has to make a unanimous decision on a court case regarding a child who has been accused of murder. The whole film shows how people are swayed from ignorance and sheepish decisions into open-mindedness and questioning.
They used different methods with which to make decisions as a group. Their methods have many applications in the real world, one of which could be collaborative writing.
Thanks for the post. Very interesting.