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.