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Peril, Part2

In our last post we described how we’d been booked to run two teams of ten writers, and each team was going to produce a book.   However when we turned up there were 26 people wanting to write a book.   The problem was that we’ve experimented before with having more than 10 people in a team – and it makes the process extremely strained and really damages the learning outputs.

Turns out that the solution wasn’t to write two books, it was to write six.  These six2015-08-15 11.56.02


Let me tell you how.


One of the famous things we do is, after the first day, allow each writer to take responsibility for a character’s path though the novel. So if I’m responsible for ‘Dorothy Stone’ I make sure that Dorothy’s story has life and vigour, that it flows narratively and that she is a rich three dimensional character. I trust my fellow writers to be doing the same with their responsibilities and when Dorothy is influenced by their actions so am I. Dorothy spends much of the book with “Steve” so I spend much of my time writing with “Steve’s” writer.

This has two major advantages:

  • it lets us avoid plotholes because there is always someone in charge of the relevant character who is in charge of answering these questions.
  • It makes characterization much easier – our characters really don’t know what other characters are thinking. Everyone really is the main character of their own story and that metaphor blows me away every time.

In general, some writers have roles rather than characters.  The plot of ‘The Delivery’ involved a group of freerunners working as couriers for a gang of criminals ( as you can imagine there were lots of scenes of chases) and so we had one person take on the role of ‘freerunning’ – she looked after all of those scenes and made sure that they maintained a consistent sense of ability,  and used all the correct free-running terms.

So you can imagine that if we were writing a young adult adventure book about a group of young footballers in a tournament, one writer would take responsibility for ‘football’. That person would keep track of where other teams were in the tournament, write the match and training scenes and keep everything sensible and sane from the point of a hardcore football fan.

Sounds good so far…  but what’s interesting is when you take a group doing that sort of plot and think about how much would need to change to make it about, say, Ice hockey.  Lots of scenes would need to be rewritten certainly, but actually, a surprisingly small proportion of the overall mass…

How to make use of six extra writers

So here’s what we did.  We briefed one of our teams that their story had to involve rivallry amoungst a group of performers, and told the other team their story had to involve redemption thought sport.    We gave each team  13 students.

For the performance book – three writers took on responsibility for one performance style each. In this case: writing, drama, and music.  For the sports book three writers took on swimming, athletics, and ballet.   Each scene that involved a particular aspect of the competition was first written by the person in charge of, say, ballet.  Afterwards, someone else would produce the version of the scene that was all about athletics, and after that someone else would produce the version about swimming.

I wrote some special marcos for the writers to put in the text that meant they could switch between the different versions and off they went.  The writers working on their characters wrote them as characters first and let sportspeople make it work.

The results

Three books about performance: Watch Us, In My Words, and The Last Note.

…and three books about sport: Drowning in Drugs, Dashing with Drugs, and Dancing with Drugs.


It’s been an interesting camp – certainly we’ve shown it’s possible to weave stories like this together and we might bring back the practice in future, but only in special circumstances. :)  I was particularly proud that the volunteers who had signed on to their very first camp, took on the extra responsibility without batting an eye – managing a team of ten to do one thing is hard enough, managing a team of 13 who have to produce three times the output is something quite special.

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