Collaborative Writing, Authoring, Writer’s Block

June 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , )

I have, just today, realized just how challenging my recent endeavor has become. The project is the story of an alternate earth, called Verdanus, which is in a binary orbit with another planet, Tertius. I attempt to explore several layers of conflict in this sci-fi setting by approaching the world from the perspectives of a myriad characters. The original idea was joint project between myself and Rohit Kumar, and I have expanded upon it greatly.

The story was originally created as a basis for a massive collaborative writing project on a roleplaying website, but the project and audience did not mesh. I have recently revitalized the project on Eric Martindale’s roleplaying website, RolePlayGateway.com. His innovative Roleplay Tab bit of user interface has allowed for any writer to create a comprehensive collaborative writing project, and I took advantage of it for Verdanus and Tertius: War of the World.

When the project failed in its original location during the summer of 2009, I moved the content to Ficly.com. Ficly allows for any author to add a sequel or a prequel to any story, so long as they maintain a 1024 character limit. A paperback page is about 350 words, while 1024 characters is about 175. The drive to make each ficlet both interesting and informative pushes authors to use those 1024 characters to their utmost potential, making stories both more concise and funner to read. The website also promotes collaboration, though this project, there tagged with ‘Elysium‘ for reference, has not been subject to sequels or prequels. Ficly’s Kevin Lawver has taken an interest in my Ficly Tree suggestion, which would better show the relationships that sequels and prequels share.

I have also recently taken full advantage of WordPress.com to house an archive or the project and make it more accessible to those that might follow me on Facebook or Twitter. However, Verdanus on WordPress alone would eventually smash me into writer’s block, killing the project altogether. The Ficly version has the potential to inject the project with other’s ideas, but has by now too large a barrier to entry (even though I’ve tried my best to provide ample hooks and entry points) to ward of stagnation. The 1024 character limit does help, forcing me to remember an overflow of ideas from each ficlet for later. On the other hand, the RolePlayGateway version has picked up several other writers who are eager to ‘play in the sandbox’ and thereby give me new ideas, as well as drive me to give responses to their content.

The challenge is as follows. The project exists as entirely my own writing, and as the combined writing of myself and others. Every new bit of content that I add thus needs to work for both versions, and that is becoming increasingly difficult. I cannot directly respond to another writer’s content, as I have neither invited them to replicate their work on my other versions, nor do I feel comfortable copying it over (except for the microstory Promotion for the Sous which Rohit Kumar composed, and I included with his permission). So my content has to be dynamic enough to be interpreted both as a continuation of my unbroken story, and a continuation of the story influenced by other writers. I first realized the challenge factor of this with a microstory which can be found on RolePlayGateway in Verdanus and Tertius, Ficly (Out in the Open), and my Verdanus blog (Out in the Open).

I wonder how long I can keep up? I’ve yet to read some new content by others on the RolePlayGateway version, so I may have to start focusing on those tendrils of the story that have so far gone untouched.

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Trees, Ficly Trees, Tree Metaphors

June 15, 2010 at 11:06 am (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , )

I am not a computer science major, but I am acquainted with the Tree structure. If you are familiar with Ficly, you might realize that Ficly stories are arranged like a tree-like structure. What I like about Ficly though, is that their trees are much closer in form to real trees.

Every story in a Ficly tree has one very important relationship: the story that spawned it, except in the case of the very first ficlet written in that tree: the ultimate seed. Ficly allows for users to compose not only sequels to a story, but also prequels. Much as a tree grows both up as branches and down as roots, Ficly trees grow forward with sequels and backward with prequels. Much like a tree’s thick trunk, the most content is usually concentrated around that ultimate seed. As well, any story can spawn more content both forward and back in time – much like the Banyan tree can drop roots from its branches.

The problem that arises with actually reading through Ficly trees is that there is no single thread that a reader can follow – the stories cannot be arranged in any ordered way along a line that will make sense. What Ficly needs is a way to view the entire tree. I have participated in other’s trees, and have spawned a tree of my own – the story of Verdanus and Tertius which I tagged with “Elysium” for easy searching. There are 14 stories (13 by me), and reading them in the order they appear in the search may or may not give you any idea of what is happening. However, after fifteen minutes of crude photoshopping, I’ve come up with this:
Tree structure of the Elysium stories on Ficly

I imagine that, if this was implemented, a “See this ficlet’s tree” link would lead to a similar view, with each node clickable. Whether it would be an HTML5/CSS3/Javascript object, or simply a visual arrangement of links I can’t say – I’ve no idea what it would take to make such a tree look beautiful regardless of what the story arrangement in it was. However, it would be nice to see the ultimate seed – which I outlined in red – and perhaps arrows along those lines pointing to what each ficlet spawned. The story from which the tree was opened might be highlighted in some other ways, and stories which the user viewing has written might also be marked – as might stories the user viewing has commented on. The number of comments that each story has, or the rating that it has received might also be included in the tree view.

I’m not the programmer for the job – but you might be. If you have any experience with programming visual displays of node-to-node relationships, then this is right up your alley.

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Social Media and all that Hype

June 15, 2009 at 1:20 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , )

Jumping onto the social media bandwagon, I proceeded to Twitter – only to find that I have nothing to say on it. One could argue that I simply did not embrace Twitter for its use – letting people who apparently care about your daily dealings know just what those dealings are – but I would say that I prefer a more personal mode of interaction for my “status updates”. I have also found that, of my initial ~20 contacts, at least three of them are Serial Twits (because Twitterers or Tweeters both sound ridiculous, and neither is as demeaning), who post about every little thing, and sometimes four or five times about the same thing. Whether it be a sports match, a gaming convention, or the influx of illegals into your backyard, I don’t care. Luckily twitter allows me to forever remove these spammers from my feed, thereby ending my friendship with them. Somewhat like breaking up over facebook – society in my eyes is hitting a new low. So now I use twitter for FDA recalls, NSF and NASA updates, and to see when Download Squad or RolePlay Gateway have something new to report.

Which brings me to something useful: Google. Having given up on Firefox due to a Google Gears + Integrated Gmail crash, I am now using Google Chrome for my internet, with Gmail for my email, and Google Reader for my RSS feeds. I Google Maps my public transportation, I Google Search for my search, and the only other sites I seem to frequent are Wikipedia and IMDB. If Google were to absorb those too (as per its blobular trend), and maybe make a Linux based Google OS, and take over Meebo for its multi-protocol instant messaging, then I really would bow down to that Blue Red Yellow Blue Green Red Skynet and consider myself saved by the Technorevolution. They did after all come out with the Android, and if naming is any indication of function…

So I’ve recently narrowed down my list of non-google sites that I actually use. They are Ficly, Photobucket, and WordPress. For some reason, I feel that Google Wave might help to centralize everything that I do online.

On an unrelated note, two of my professors were walking the stairways and hallways in a very solemn manner – slow, careful steps, hung head, stooped posture – until I alerted them to my presence, whereupon each of them in their respective incidents livened up and help a perfectly normal conversation with me. Then returned to their zombie walk as I made some distance.

But for those of you who do use twitter, I highly recommend TwitterFeed, Su.pr by Stumble Upon, and TweetPsych. I have decided that a Tweet should either have a witty joke/comment, or a link in it to be of any use to anyone. “Mowing lawn, back in ah hour” does not qualify.

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