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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Adventures in Real-Time Story Collaboration: Day One (Google Docs)

The Internet is an amazing thing.  I'm sure of it now.  Yes, it's full of stupid people making stupid comments on YouTube that make dyslexic people wonder if everyone else is dyslexic too, but after what happened last night, I have to say that the Internet is the single greatest human invention (next to bread and John Williams).

My friend Adam and I have been doing our best to do what are called Word Wars every single day.  This is in part because Adam is the crazy "write 5 billion words a day" type and because he knows that the last four to five months have been a veritable hell for my writing; I suspect he's using my lighter load this semester and his persuasive abilities to get me back on track.  In any case, a
Word War is a kind of "competition" between at least two people (though I've seen wars with up fifteen) who decide on a time limit, and then do nothing but write for that period; the person with the most words after the buzzer "wins," but the object is not necessarily to win--the object is to write.  Adam and I have written over 20,000 words (combined) since the 1st through these wars.  We don't get to them every day, since sometimes one of us is having an off day, but we try our hardest and have formed a pretty strong little writing relationship (and friendship) through all of our critiques and what not.
Really, it is.
Today, however, I upped the ante.  I've been playing with Google Docs a lot in the last three weeks for the classes I teach, though I've been using them for Young Writers Online for a year or two.  Lately I've been getting a laugh from seeing people from YWO using the documents I set up for moderators at the same time that I'm using them.  It's the ultimate in web-surveillance, because you not only see that they're online, but you see everything they are typing, including when they select features (like bold or italics) and use them.  Maybe I'm a simpleton, but I find real-time documents amusing.  I suspect this is because I grew up in a period where things like Google Docs were either not around or not of interest to me (video games were pretty much my life-blood when I was young).  I preferred Real Time Strategy Games (like Starcraft) and the first Half-Life, which is the single greatest First Person Shooter ever invented.  Period.  I will argue with you over that game until I suffocate!

Moving on.  So early last night it dawned on me that Adam and I could write a story in Google Docs in real time, piece by piece.  We've talked about collaborating before, but haven't done so yet because, well, we're both busy and weren't sure how it would all work.  I suggested doing real-time story writing with Google Docs as a semi-joke to him, and then didn't really think too much of it for an hour while we did some writing.  And then I got inspired to write a paragraph of something entirely random and explosive (literally, it starts with an explosion), and then I forwarded the Google Doc link to Adam and gave him editing capabilities.  An hour later, we had an action-packed scene completely written out.  Written together.  Paragraph by paragraph.
Look out!  The pea people are coming!
First things first, let's get the obvious out of the way.  The fact that technology has made such a collaborative project possible without long wait times between chapters and so on is simply amazing.  Here we are, two little nobodies with very little to our name (with the exception of Adam, who has a pro sale to his name, because he's awesome like that) writing a story together in real time, watching each other as each word flows from our fingers.  I'm awed by it, to be honest.  Maybe I'm silly to get so excited by such a thing, but what's going through my head right now is the potential for this technology to make collaboration across borders possible.  Imagine writing a story with someone from the Philippines or Japan or Europe or (and here my skin starts to tingle) someone from the Caribbean, or the lower Americas!  Maybe it's already happening and I just haven't heard of it yet, since Google Docs has been around for a while.

But the second thing to take from our first day is two-fold:

  1. We came up with a fun, action-packed romp that we're both quite happy with.  Will we have to edit it?  Of course, but the cool thing about real-time collab is that we can do it together.
  2. We both really want to keep it up, and are planning to spend a bit of time tomorrow doing so.  Maybe even a few hours.  I don't know.  All I know is that we want to see where it goes.  Maybe this story will be a dud, or maybe we'll see a real gem in it, edit it up, and submit it somewhere.  And you know what?  I don't care what happens with the story so long as we both get something useful from it and decide to collab again.  Adam and I have talked about writing a novel together in the past (a young adult, science fiction space opera, actually), and if this is the gateway into making that possible, then you can count me in.  Adam has one hell of a brain and the ideas that come out of his head are fantastic, if not a little unsettling.  I'm not too shabby either, and I think combining both will produce some truly amazing things.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.  Whatever happens, I think we're enormously pleased with last night's proceedings.


So, have you ever collaborated with someone over the Internet?  I'd like to hear about it in the comments.  It doesn't have to be a writing collaboration.  Music, movies, whatever!  Let me know!

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