Being a tour guide is not only amassing facts and understanding the history, science, topography and ideas of a place, it is also about being a good story teller. When I am guiding, my story telling is about actual people and events, but understanding how a story is built is key whether you are dealing with fiction or non-fiction.
Six years ago, in my constant search not only to inject content in my children’s education, but also to get them to “think out of the box”, I developed an idea. I call it cooperative fiction. The aim of cooperative fiction is to stretch your brain, while learning about what it takes to make a good story, how to develop plot, story arc, character development. Writers of differing ages and abilities sign up with the project, basic guidelines are set, and the project is launched.
Each writer writes the first chapter of a multi-chapter book. After a week, the developing books are reassigned to another writer who, after reading chapter 1, must then write a chapter 2 continuing the story line. This continues until the set amount of chapters is reached, usually between 6 and 8 chapters. Discussion of the books between authors is not allowed, thus insuring that each author comes to the book “fresh” without any preconceived notions. An editor makes sure that all writers stay on track, follow the rules of the project and submit their chapters on time. (Already in the second year, software was developed by project participants which allowed all work to be done on line – thanks to Elliot and Joey for development and continued support!)
I started the project with educational goals for my kids, but some of the lessons I learned have been surprising.
1. This project is enjoyable for all ages. Creative exercise is good for the brain. This is true whether you are 10 or 72. In fact, 10 year olds may have an easier time taking a situation and running with it than older people. As people get older, they become more set in their ways – less flexible – and having to write in someone else’s world is a real mental work-out.
2. No matter who you are or what kind of a writer you are, the reaction to receiving a book that you have not started and now must continue is the same. You read the book and declare to any and all around you that “this is the stupidest book I have ever read and there is no possible way to continue it”. This happens for every writer, every book, every time.
3. Other people do not think the same way that you do. Don’t expect that people who write after you will continue the book in any sort of fashion that seems to you to be obvious. This is true especially if you are a sloppy writer. If you leave holes, grammatical mistakes, mix up the characters’ names, someone who writes after you is sure to pick up on these discrepancies in ways that you didn’t intend.
4. People become emotionally attached to “their book”, that is, the book for which they wrote chapter 1. The book will not turn out as you suspected. Don’t get upset. Books are like boats which you set to sail and do not touch upon again until they are at the end of their journey. It could be that all the characters die; it could be that they fall in love. Although these outcomes are out of your control, you still see a personal stake in that book. Enjoy the connection but take your ego out of the equation.
Tonite was the signing party for the Summer 2012 project. I printed all the books and we all sat around and read them, laughing and critiquing, asking questions and reading favorite lines, eating and drinking foods which were tangentially connected to our first chapters (or just yummy).
If you are interested in reading some of our stories, go to the site and check them out!