Ten – A Postmortem

A while ago a started a project called Ten, a collaborative story jointly written by ten authors about ten people from across the globe tasked with killing each other.

For the authors that joined in, the deal was simple. This book when finished would be published via a self-publishing service and I would pay for a and send a copy to each one. We’d all get the opportunity to write with each other, work on a real, serious project and work on doing proper editing and revisions.

Things however, did not go to plan.

This is an article about the challenges faced and the lessons learned, both about myself and the running of an ambitious project, from the failure of Ten.

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Progress on Ten

I’ve been working on a project called Ten for a little while now and it’s getting exciting to see the characters involved coming together.

For those of you that don’t know, Ten is a collaborative piece of fiction. Ten authors, ten characters, ten reasons for murder. Ten strangers spread across national and cultural boundaries are contacted with a mysterious offer. Would they like to play a game? Only, this isn’t a game. They each have a list of nine people to kill and if they succeed, they can have the one thing they wish for most. Fame, power, glory, a missing daughter returned, a dead wife resurrected. These are some of the things the mysterious benefactors can offer them but will these people kill for it?

Ten is a kind of quasi-supernatural, international conspiracy-theory murder mystery and an experiment in properly writing a joint, collaborative novel including the full editing process, typography and cover design, all the way to print. It’s going to be a long undertaking, but eventually we plan to self-publish it and sell it at cost, licensed under a creative commons license.

The first draft is being written on Protagonize, the other drafts will happen as they happen, where they need to. Nothing is very well organised as of yet and as the sort of chairman of the board, being the founder of the project, I’ve been keeping a loose grip on things but lately trying to take a more active management role.

Anyway, as I said, it’s exciting to see things coming together. Over the course of the story we’ve had some authors drop out and need replacing. I’ve written chapters for 3 characters now when originally I had planned to be working in a purely advisory and editing role, rather than as a core author. I must say I’m glad to be joining in though, even if it’s under circumstances I’d rather not come up.

As we are moving forward with the story I’ve been pushing for us all to work more closely together rather than just writing for ‘our’ characters like a glorified roleplay. We’ve been sharing notes on the wiki, slowly but surely, and now it’s time to start joint writing chapters together with the authors of characters the plot dictates we will meet soon. I want us to get down and dirty with all of the characters so we can attack the second draft and editing process fully armed with the knowledge of all ten characters and their plots, sub-plots and secondary characters in each of our heads. Mostly though, I want us to feel comfortable editing each others work. Writing strictly for one character will show up badly throughout the story, our own individual writer’s voices shining through. I want the story to be a truly collaborative piece, not just a combination of our voices, but a fusion, a sum greater than the whole of it’s parts. I think it will be awesome to read a book where we don’t even fully recognize our own chapters, because they wont be our own, they’ll be the sum of all the work every other author has put into them, a unique voice born from the combination of ten others.

That’s the most exciting thing about this project, the test of creating a story written by a hive-mind author, with it’s own personality and voice that emerges from the combination of it’s constituent parts. That’s proper collaborative writing, right there and I am really looking forward to how it turns out.

I’ve already found myself challenged and writing differently as I’ve picked up characters from authors that have dropped out and it’s a great experience. My latest chapter written for the character of Alexi, the failed and timid Russian magician, oddly become erotica without me intending it to, no doubt partly because of my practice and thoughts on Urges. However, if I had written Alexi from the beginning, I doubt that would have happened. Sharing characters adds new and interesting aspects to them and makes the journey all the more exciting, surprising and above all fun. I really hope the other authors can take even a fraction from Ten of what I’m getting by working together like this.

As the story progresses, things are getting more and more interesting, the plots slowly weaving together, characters becoming more fully fleshed out, mysteries forming and answers beginning to lurk around corners. The first draft is going to be rough, really rough. The fun really begins when the editing starts.

You can read the first draft of Ten so far on Protagonize.


This last month or so

Well, it’s been a while since my last post. What’s been happening over this last month?

Well, I’ve been ill – still. For the last six months or so I’ve had stomach cramps and generally unpleasant gastrointestinal issues which have come and gone and they’ve been rearing their ugly ahead again this month. I’ve had bloodtests and given various samples and what not so hopefully they can figure out what it is and get me sorted.

In happier news, I’m enjoying the new job. Multiplay is a cool place to work, full of fun people and interesting projects. Sometimes I get the odd surprise when I realise just how big they really are, having not had much experience working for large companies wheeling and dealing with heavyweights in the gaming industry. It’s pretty exciting and even though it’s a complete arse to get there, it’s totally worth it. That said, I will be so glad when I can drive there. This commute as it stands is slowly killing me. At least everyone there is really understanding about the commute, my various ailments and so working from home is an option, though I try not to take advantage of it too often because I feel bad shuttered off at home and miss out on the working atmosphere in the office.

Which leads me on to the driving. So far, so good. No major incidents as of yet, no remnants of children to be scraped off the instructors car quite yet. It’s been interesting, I started off my first lesson on hills, my second lesson was on ice and in my last lesson I had the pleasure of being on a steep hill I couldn’t see over, when two buses came over all while I had a white van man right behind me. Considering this was my first time ever on roads with other road users, this was mildly concerning and I screwed up a little, but not so badly anything bad happened. To me shame the instructor (who is a very nice woman working under the AA) had to intervene a bit on that particular incident, but not to worry, it’s early days yet. The main issue I find I have with driving is getting feedback from the pedals. My feet are often pretty numb and so I find it hard to tell whether I’m pushing down on them or not. Gentle pressure on things like the accelerator I can’t feel at all and so I have to judge by ear. It also doesn’t help that my giant clown feet in my huge boots keep catching on the footwell when pressing/depressing the clutch. Hopefully I’m going to get some trainers at some point which should alleviate some of those issues.

The AA website is a bit shit and makes paying people a bit of an arse. You’d think something like that would be fairly important. I might have to resort to cheques or something.

At the end of February Dru and I are heading over to Canada to stay with our good friend Asheyna, whom we met on Protagonize. Collaborative writing, bringing people together – NickB should use that as a sickeningly cheesy tag line :) I’m really looking forwards to it, I could do with a holiday, this commute and busy period at work has taken it out of me a bit. It’s odd, I never really saw myself as the kind of person who needs a break from work. I’ve always enjoyed what I do and so holidays have mostly been “you don’t have to come in” days to me, rather than a respite from working. With this commute though, that has changed which makes me feel a little sad. Something else that I find mildly depressing is that I rarely do any coding outside of work any more. Admittedly, I rarely do much of anything outside of work at the moment – I get up at 0530, spend and hour getting ready then get to the train station for 0711 to reach Southampton by 0800 where I catch a bus to the ferry terminal for 0810 where I catch a ferry at 0835 to reach Hythe by 0855 where I then get a lift into work. Then I do the whole thing in reverse, starting at 1800 and arriving home at around 2030. That leaves me barely any time to do anything and the weekends are spent mostly recovering on lack of sleep so thinking isn’t high on my list of pursuits, usually I vegetate to mindless internet browsing, watching TV and the occasional PS3 game session because I’m just too exhausted for anything else.

Now, that sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s not like I’m zombified the entire time, but I am sufficiently tired that it’s just hard to do anything that I want to do, because I never feel very ‘fresh’ mentally. Squeezing in a Warhammer fantasy roleplay on Thursdays and a D&D 4th Edition on Sundays is taxing enough, but I’m glad I do them, if I did nothing at all every night I’d go insane. Monday nights on the G3 Show are becoming problematic for me at the moment. Admittedly, this is mostly due to the poor performance of the train system. The weather recently has thrown a complete spanner in the works and it takes them forever to fix anything. To their credit though, I’ve found SouthWest Trains’ twitter information feed very helpful and it’s been nice to actually know I’m going to be late before hand so I can give people warning or decide to work from home.

Speaking of roleplays, I’ve decided to fulfil my ambition to play a Don’t Rest Your head game by playing it from the other side of the screen as a GM. Normally I don’t GM very much, it’s both a lot of work and I don’t like my game-running style meshes well with a lot of my players, at least not to my observations, which whether it actually is the case or not still demoralises me enough to make most of my games fail miserably. However, these Don’t rest Your Head games I’m running are different for two reason. Firstly, Don’t Rest Your head is an awesome systems that seems likes it was designed for the exact kind of narrative control I like to use, with an awesome setting to boot. Secondly, I’m running the games on Google Wave for players I’ve never played with before. Running it in a non-real-time way gives me time to perfect things and think ahead, so there isn’t so much pressure to plan ahead before each game or on improvising quickly during a session. So far, I’ve found Google Wave works very much like running a game on a forum or site like RPoL.net is. The real-time aspects are useful and I plan on writing some gadgets to help with things like dice rolls in the Don’t Rest Your Head format, which should be nice. All my players are also from Protagonize. That site is slowly becoming the center of my internet life. Don’t rest Your Head is such an awesome system and setting, I highly recommend it. I also bought the supplement Don’t Lose Your Mind which has some really awesome Madness talents. I strongly urge you to check out DRYH and DLYM at Evil Hat. You can buy them in the UK without paying crazy international delivery prices from Leisure Games. I’m also playing in a D&D 4th Edition game on there

Speaking of Protagonize.com, I volunteered my services as a judge in the current unofficial poetry tournament. It’s been pretty fun and I’ve tried to make a real effort to give some good critique on each poem, though this last found has suffered a bit due to being busy at work. I’ve had some nice feedback on my feedback – it’s always nice to be appreciated.

February looks like it’s going to be yet another busy and interesting month. I’m looking forwards to Canana and meeting Asheyna in person and hopefully some of my other friends from Protagonize that happen to live in Vancouver including NickB himself.

And that’s this last month or so.