Several years ago, I participated in a round-robin writing project where everyone took turns adding to the story. It frustrated me because it seemed as if many, if not most, of the writers made a point of changing characters or adding ridiculous elements, making it impossible to create a cohesive story. So I got the idea of doing a project like that, but each person got to create their own character and no one could change it without their permission.
Getting people to agree to participate was fairly easy. Back then, there was a site similar to Facebook, but for writers, so everyone I knew online was interested in writing. Getting them to follow through, however, was a completely different story. Even before we started, people wanted to change things.
My idea was that a horrendous crime was committed in the neighborhood, and I wanted to show how everyone was affected, but oh, no. That would be a boring story. Huh? We hadn’t even started so how would anyone know it would be boring? Besides, they were writers. They could make it not boring. Still, they decided it had to be murder mystery, which was in no way at odds with my original plan. Because if there is a crime in a novel, there has to be a resolution, right? I thought that went without saying.
My publisher at the time was one of the participants, and he said to me, “The hard part for you will be to relinquish control.” Again, huh? The point was for us each to be in charge of our character, each to post our segment to the blog on our assigned day, each to keep with story so that each segment followed the timeline in order to keep from making blunders that couldn’t be fixed. (In a novel written offline, obviously, one can edit at the end, but in a blog novel, as this one was, there is no editing afterward. It is what it is.) But almost no one did what they were supposed to. I ended up having to remind people when it was their turn, had to edit their hastily written segments to get rid of the worst of the typos, had to post the segments to the blog myself because no one wanted to do it.
So, the hard part for me was not in relinquishing control but being forced to take control. That was so not fun! Still, we did a did a trilogy, and by the third one, the authors that remained were very good, so that one was a bit more fun for me.
Afterwards, I tried to do a different collaborative novel with other writers, and again, before a single word was written, people wanted to change things. Instead of a mystery, we ended up with a sort of steampunk anthology with loosely connected stories. As it turned out, the person who insisted on steampunk dropped out, but by then we were committed to the story.
What has made me revisit all this is that I’m considering doing a blog novel, but with myself as the sole author, which should make things a lot less stressful than trying to do it with other people. I also like my original idea — how a certain crime affected people in a neighborhood. Did it make them revisit their life choices? Did it make them grateful for what they had? Did they decide to move away? Were they the one who committed the crime, and were they glad or sorry they’d done it?
One of the problems with the first such project was that each person had to write as if their character could have done the crime, but at the same time, make it possible to prove they didn’t. That could be the same problem here, but it’s possible the crime wasn’t committed by one of the neighbors — I won’t know until towards the end anyway. I want to try writing a story where I don’t know the end, to just follow along with the characters and see what happens.
I still have other commitments — my job, for one — which makes it harder for me to want to commit to a time intensive project like a blog novel, but at least this gives me an idea of what to start thinking about.
And maybe, this time such a project would be fun for me.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.