Thursday, July 10, 2014

Storyline: Writing's Version of Speed Chess

I was recently introduced to a great way to practice: This collaborative writing site is a blast for those times you just want to put down some prose. Here’s a few reasons why it rocks:

  • Collaboration. Relay storytelling is the site's goal, and the way it's implemented is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s fun to try and continue a plot based on someone else’s writing. You have to stay within the established tone of previous entries while simultaneously bringing your own ideas to the mix. Then you get to watch other authors do the same thing with your prose. It’s neato.
  • Time Limits. A built-in timer only permits six minutes to craft an entry (five to compose, one to revise). This brilliant set-up doesn’t allow you to agonize over your word choices: one way or another, your prose will go live in six minutes. Some might consider that terrifying, but it puts me in a “rough draft” mode that short-circuits my perfectionism and lets me enjoy myself.
  • Quick Feedback. Writing is often a lonely business, and sometimes it’s nice to type some words and know that others will read and (hopefully) appreciate them. It’s a great confidence booster to get upvoted (hearted?), and that confidence can provide an impetus to keep plugging away on your private work. Likewise, it feels good to upvote heart the hard work of others.

Of course, there are a few limitations to the current set-up. While I love the core idea and growing community, a few additional features would be handy. As it exists now, Storyline is great for beginning a story, but without additional tools I suspect those tales will eventually trail off without a satisfying conclusion.

Here’s what I hope to see as the site expands:

1. Story Discussion Threads. 

I would love to press a button at the top of a story and have a second column appear that contains a single discussion thread about that story. Basically this would be for collaborative notes, world-building, and discussion about directions the story could take. For clarity, each comment could be pegged to the fiction entry that was current when the comment was submitted.

2. Story Moderators. 

It would be grand if the creator of a story gained the option (not the requirement) to be designated the moderator for that story. The level of moderation could vary from minimal to full editor.

At the lowest setting, the moderator would gain a special symbol next to their name in the story discussion thread. They would also be able to edit a permanent entry next to the story titled “The Story So Far” (or something similar). This would be used to summarize story progress for interested parties who aren’t sure if they want to join in on some of the longer entries. It could also be used to guide the flow (i.e. “Let’s try to finish up the current scene in the next five entries!”). Finally, the moderator would be able to “end” the story after any entry (with the option of a final post), or pass on the “moderator” title to another user. 

At the highest level, the moderator effectively becomes an editor, with the ability to delete posts, insert linking material, etc. This shouldn't be the recommended setting, of course, as it would tend to overshadow the collaborative nature of the site—but some story groups may want this option. 

3. Single Author Stories

I know collaborative storytelling is the point of Storyline (that’s why I love it), but as the community grows it would be nice to occasionally write an individual story that you could share with your fellow authors. I would even prefer it to be in the same format: one entry at a time in six-minute installments. Readers could heart their favorite entries and use the story discussion thread to offer encouragement or suggestions (solo stories would also be a good candidate for the “sparks” virtual currency the creator recently introduced).

Whew! This was a lengthy (non-fiction) post, but I guess that just shows how much I’ve been enjoying Storyline. If this sounds like something you’d like, go have a look (I’m there under the user name FlynnFlam). You might just find it as addictive as I have!

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