Fanfiction: Collaboration in the Paper Age

The next foray into fanfiction was collaborative.

I’m pretty sure Mandi started it, but I was a joiner in the work that was called “The Continuation.” So named because it picked up the threads of stories where several works left off, and wove them together into a new story.

The main sources for The Continuation were the anime series Gundam Wing (a Toonami favorite in our middle and high school years) and the video game Final Fantasy VIII. Elements were also incorporated from a bunch of other sources (some of which I probably didn’t even recognize, as they were brought in by other authors) including DragonBallZ and Sailor Moon.

The method for writing is what sticks with me the most, because it was so basic and yet so ingenious. The Continuation was written in a spiral notebook (well, a massive series of notebooks, eventually) by hand, scene by scene. Occasionally the authors (or most of them) would meet up at lunch or at a sleepover to plot some of the major events and coordinate who was responsible for writing what scenes, but for the most part we (I, at least) let Mandi handle the major plot arc and just narrated our own subplots whenever it was our turn to write.

How did you know it was your turn? You had the notebook in your possession. Every time the notebook got passed to me (and this was not at all scheduled, it just happened — if you hadn’t had it in a while, you could expect or ask about it pretty soon), I would flip back to the last page on which I could find my own handwriting, then read from there whatever new scenes had been written by whomever else had done so in the intervening time. I would sometimes contribute notes or commentary in the margins (some drew pictures, too), write a scene of my own, then pass it on to someone else.

I have fond memories of sitting in this or that classroom, hiding in the back so the teacher wouldn’t see that what I was reading or working on was not, in fact, relevant to the class.

Spiral notebook covers are flimsy, so it lived in a binder, which allowed supplementary materials (playlists, drawings, separate sheets with notes on them, etc.) to be collected and kept along with it. We tried to end chapters effectively, but really the chapters sort of just happened every time the notebook contained one of those pale yellow dividers that are built in to those things.

This left such an impression that when I first began to consider trying to write original fiction of my own, I bought a bunch of spiral notebooks, hoping that imitating the old process would feed the new. It didn’t work, probably because every time I opened my own notebooks, there was nothing new waiting for me to discover, and encountering the writing of my co-authors was what drove me forward with everything I wrote in The Continuation.

For me (and I think, most of us), our Continuation subplots were still largely Mary-Sue in nature. While the character about whom I wrote was not exactly “me,” and while I was responsible for some other supporting characters as well, Katrina and later Mikayla both embodied a lot of things I wished or pretended to be. For me, it was almost a continuation of my previous daydreaming DM activities. (Heh…. heh…)

The Continuation was a drama, serious in tone, but there was one other collaborative fanfiction that I wrote with my friend Julie, this one comedic. In one sleep-deprived slumber party night we drafted pages and pages of notes (roaring with laughter all the while) about the adventures of a pair of twins jetting about the galaxy in a combined anime universe (Sailor Moon, Tenchi, Gundam Wing, and basically anything that was on Cartoon Network’s Toonami circa 2000). This, typed, was “The Adventures of Rian-chan and Shimmery-sama,” which my mother suggested we should have called “The Gay Bar on the Moon” (after a venue we made up, I think on Deimos, moon of Mars). I’m honestly not sure whether we ever finished this story, although it was much shorter than The Continuation. I don’t think we ever finished The Continuation, either, although we did try to keep at it from college. You can’t pass a notebook as easily when you’re not passing one another in the halls, so things sort of broke down, especially for me, having crossed state lines.

Some of the story was later typed by Mandi and, bless the internet, is still available, although what got typed was far in the past to what we were actually writing by the time it made it online. The one that survives is actually called The Continuation II, because the first attempt was scrapped sometime after freshman year and then rebooted (I rebelled against abandoning the first story and refused to write in the second; managed to hold out for a while, but eventually cracked and came on board). The typed version, while it made the text available to all of us for reference and to a wider audience in general, was a whole lot less fun for me to peruse. Part of the joy, I think, was in knowing before you began which author had written a scene (based on handwriting), knowing a little of what to expect, therefore (what characters that author usually took care of). The standard font loses a lot of the personality I rather enjoyed on this collaborative effort.

Still holding true in this Stage II of fanfiction evolution was the fact that, here more than ever, it was way easier for me to sit back and let someone else do the heavy lifting of “worldbuilding” and “major plot structure.” I much more preferred characterization and dramas involving a smaller scale, and was much more comfortable writing for the handful of characters I understood the best. I am better at working within rules than starting from scratch.

Something valuable I learned is that reading the writing of others pushes me to write. I’ve since found this to be true in non-collaborative work as well. Reading the not-fully-polished work of my peers makes me feel safer about producing stuff of my own that isn’t polished yet (and very little in this world springs from our foreheads fully formed, right?), and subjecting it to the kind of friendly critique that will make it stronger.
Reading what others wrote, specifically in collaboration, helped me know when the time was right to send in the winds of change in my own subplots, as well. It also made story plotting much less intimidating, because on the occasions that we did roundtable the ideas, it never felt like the balance of the entire massive story was resting just on one person, depending on them for believability, consistency, and all the other things that make a story good.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of online tools ripe for collaboration. I’m interested to learn more about how authors use these and what has worked the most effectively in co-authoring. Do you, or has someone you know used any web-based tools to collaborate in writing projects? What did you use? How did it go? Please leave a comment to let me know!

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One Response to Fanfiction: Collaboration in the Paper Age

  1. Pingback: Stuff I’m Into: Sting | Rerouting….

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