I have decided to write a series of posts how collaborative writing and how I do it. Of course I'm only speaking of my own experiences of collaborative fiction writing over the course of the last ten years, which means there are other ways to do it, but I hope this series will be informative and maybe entertaining.
In the case of the sites I have worked at CHARACTER comes first. Story is important but most of the writers at web sites like PanHistoria, AncientWorlds, and BardicWeb have usually started with a character concept first, or if they found a story the were attracted to write in the next step was figuring out their character in the story. I think that is the one defining characteristic of sites like Pan. We come into our multiverse as a character, and so we tend to think in terms of characters.
Even if you have a science fiction scenario rolling around in your brain - by the very fact that you must choose to 'be' a character for it (much like role-play) collaborative fiction writers at Pan will start thinking about and being that character pretty much first thing, often before requesting their new group.
This is an interesting approach and a site designed for 'role-playing' collaborative writing (no dice, but stepping into the character to write your POV) gives you some tools that as a writer, normally, you might not employ. First of all there are the visual components. Once you have named and then created your character you are giving a home page and profile for that character. This gives the writer a chance to flesh out the character in a lot of different ways even before tapping out those first few characters of action or dialogue. I used to spend a lot more time on the home creation process when I was new to writing because it really helped me to get to know a character before I jumped into writing the story. There is the choosing of the avatar, an image that represents what the character's appearance is, and then finding the graphics and style of the home page. The profile page is designed, particularly, for those that like to use their characters in more than one story - I find this a great way for getting to know my characters even better.
Let me explain this a little more. Generally, if I were to write a novel about my character Nick Capra, for example (I googled that name once and found out there is a porn star by that name - totally unintentional and totally a coincidence but one I find amusing), he would only have one history, one set of related adventures. But by role-playing him in different scenarios I get to see what he would do given a whole different set of probabilities. My character Itet, born in Ancient Egypt, is always a charming serpent-like sociopath with sadistic tendencies - though he's had to adapt to new surroundings on a couple occasions as he's moved from story to story. Right now he's an Elven Prince on the verge of annihilating the world; not a small job, but someone had to do it.
Ok, so we have built up a nice little home for our character, some people like to list traditional statistics or such, I prefer not, and then we have done a little outline in our profile of our role in the story (novel as it is called in Pan) and we're ready to rock n' roll.
Or are we? Another interesting way to build up our concept of our character at Pan is through instant messaging with other characters. Some people actually will role-play their characters using the message system - or some will discuss plot with their fellow writers, or some will do both. I used to role-play more but now I tend to discuss plot and shoot ideas back and forth with my writing partners.
NEXT TIME: Making convincing 'human' characters even if they are a power hungry elf.