WhirlwindBrushMethod Rules and Guidelines
"Methods" covers rules for story form. "Protocols" are suggestions for how to make story content accessible to other writers. The most important concept here is that this is a co-operative effort. I can't stress this enough. When you sit down to write an installment, you should not only think about the cool stuff you want to stick in, you should also think about how you can make the story better for everyone. This can mean clearing up plot or characterization inconsistencies, resolving or streamlining subplots, leaving hooks for future authors, whatever. Follow the "Other" Golden Rule, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If you want to see an example of the kind of stuff you should definitely not do in this sort of story, visit Improfanfic and read through this story. I loved it, I wrote for it, it was a goddamn train wreck (especially the first fifteen or so parts). If you look at the way the plot unfolds, and cross-reference to the guidelines I set out below, it'll become very clear where some of those guidelines come from. _Ikselam
- Anyone can start a story. To do this, write a "pilot" episode and open a new queue.
- Branching is fine. If a story reaches a point where a certain main character decides to strike out on their own, it's perfectly okay to start a new story with them as the hero. The branch might eventually reconnect to the root story, or it could fly off in an entirely new direction (keeping in mind that the two stories do occur in the same continuity).
- Reverse-branching is also fine. By "reverse-branching," I mean starting a branch which has its endpoint, rather than its beginning, in the root story. Examples of this could include writing backstories for characters, making up a story which follows the original plotline from the villain's point of view, and so on.
Adding to Stories
- Anyone can append themselves to the author queue. Add your name at the bottom of the list, and set a deadline for yourself. Don't plan on taking more than ten days from the time the previous author finishes their part.
- No one can write two parts in a row. This basic rule keeps one person from dominating the story progression. Minor branches and reverse-branches can be an exception to this rule, since they are just sidestories.
- Quality counts more than quantity. Some people have the talent, and the free time, to churn out reams of good stuff. Others don't. This is okay. In general, 20k (bytes, not words) of plaintext is a reasonable goal to shoot for in ten days (this equates to between 7 and 8 single-spaced pages in 12-point Times New Roman font). 10k is probably a little too short; 40k is verging on too long. Either way, though, what matters is that you feel you did the best you could within the time constraints.
- Edits and rewrites can occur at any time. It's okay to go back and polish up old stuff, or have someone do it for you. Just be careful that any revisions you make do not break the subsequent plot.
- Give a good hand-off. Leave a hook for the next author to pick up on, but don't try to railroad.
- Cliffhangers sometimes work, and sometimes don't. Handle them with care.
- Co-operate with those before and after you. Try not to retcon events or kill off characters just because you think they are lame. Instead, think of ways to spin them so they're more interesting.
- Corollary: It is often a good idea to be in contact with the person before you in the queue. It allows you to have an idea of where you will be starting from when your turn comes 'round, and facilitates the creation of multi-episode story arcs.
- Comments on parts are encouraged. Each episode should probably have its own comment page. If you're doing a line-by-line critique, or something similarly involved, it should have its own page; general discussion and short critiques can probably be safely bunched onto a single page.
Establishing a coherent plotline is one of the hardest parts of a co-operative writing project. In many ways, it's similar to the challenge faced by a role-playing group: you want to try and stay on track, while at the same time giving your fellow players latitude to do their own thing. Behave in a considerate and honorable fashion, and everyone will benefit.
- Roll with the punches. Half the point of this exercise is to become more adaptable. If the guy before you in the queue comes up with something completely unexpected, go with it.
- Don't overcomplicate. Too many subplots causes a story to lose momentum. Stay focused.
- Author's notes are okay, but spoilers aren't. It's bad form to try and use postscripts to direct the plot. If something mysterious occurs in your part, don't blow it wide open in an afterword.
Characters are what make a story go. This is an aspect of co-op writing which is very different from a RPG; the default assumption is that everyone doesn't get to have his or her own character. There's room for each author to help give the characters depth and personality, but no one person has total control. Again, remember the Golden Rule.
- Resist the temptation to add new main characters. Cast overpopulation is like subplot proliferation; it clogs things up. The limelight should generally stay on a relatively small group of protagonists.
- Corollary: Don't make Mary Sues. A Mary Sue is a character who makes all other characters look bad (the reference comes from an old Star Trek fanfic). She steals the spotlight and recoordinatizes the entire plot with her at the center. Anathema!
- Treat characters with respect. If you're going to kill off a recurring character, have the decency to give them a good death scene.
- Corollary: Don't introduce characters you aren't willing to see die. This is especially true for villains and supporting cast.
- Strive for consistent characterization. This one is pretty obvious.
Starting a New Story
Most of the protocols above apply mainly when adding to an existing story. People who are starting new stories have a different set of considerations.
- Set up a goal. This can be either long- or short-term, but give future authors at least a hint of what direction the plot should take.
- Set up a core group of main characters. The first couple authors in the queue will probably add to the cast, but you should establish at least one strong protagonist in the first part.
- You don't have to worry about villains too much. There's no need to introduce the main villain right off the bat. This can work for certain types of stories, but in many cases, the true villain's identity isn't revealed until much later in the plot. So, if you can't come up with a really good recurring bad guy, don't sweat it.
- Think in terms of templates. You will not be able to control the direction the story, or its characters, take. So, instead of trying to nail down as much as possible right off the bat, give future authors interesting outlines to work within and embellish. Give protagonists a couple of obvious, simple characteristics. Sketch out potential goals or motivations in broad strokes. Don't blow everyone away with detail, because it will make it impossible to follow the opening act.
- Define your goals. It may be a good idea to write up a short manifesto, outlining the themes you want the story to explore, any unusual stylistic gimmicks you want it to use (e.g., "Every episode should end with a cliffhanger."), how long you envision it running, and so forth. This will help you figure out how to write the first part, and give future authors a rough framework to work on.
This is obviously going to be Exalted fanfic. Moreover, it will be Exalted fanfic written by several different people, which means that some kind of conformity to source material needs to be maintained. If everyone starts writing like their quirky house-rules are actually part of the setting, things will get messy.
- Conform to the canon setting. Assume that the stuff put forth in the Exalted books is true. We don't have to be complete Nazis about it, but avoid wild stuff which people outside your gaming group won't understand.
- Corollary: Don't feel bound by metaplot. It's fine to introduce canon characters, but don't feel like all canon characters need to exist in any given story's continuity, or that their actions in the story need to line up with their actions in the Castebooks (or whatever). Their backstories should probably remain pretty much untouched, though it's certainly okay to embellish.
- Corollary: Notify of non-conformity. If you are starting a new story, and you want it to incorporate your wacky house rules, an alternate timeline, or character types which don't actually exist in canon yet (i.e., Infernal Exalted, dual-Exaltations), make this explicit. Mark the story as alternate-universe.
My operating assumption is that the moderator (by default, me), won't actually have to do much. On the wiki, people can easily post their own parts, update queues, and so forth. The moderator would mainly be responsible for sending out notice of impending deadlines or radical queue alterations, and also for stepping in to, uh, moderate if really serious disputes arose.
- Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?, by ResplendentDawn. (Notes.)
- A Mysterious Omen, by FinalCountdown.
- Everybody Dies, by TepetZeromus. (Notes.)
- JohnSmith, due Dec 30 (10 days).
- MikesGhost, due Jan 6 (7 days).
- DeathRazorYukiChan, due Jan 16 (10 days).
Any ideas for better layout, naming conventions, and how to handle branches, are welcome.