Is a Writer a Team Player? (ARG vs. Novel)

Last month I blogged about the writing differences between novels, short stories, and plays. There is one other type of fiction writing I do: alternate reality games.

If you don’t know what these are, I’m going to direct you to some good sources for a definition. Better people than I have tried to pin down exactly what an ARGor transmedia story – is, and the debate carries on. Basically, these are interactive tales (the characters communicate with the audience) across several different media – often, for many stories, anchored on the Internet.

One main difference between writing ARGs and writing traditional projects is that ARGs aren’t solitary endeavors. Yes, we could argue that no successful writing is a solitary endeavor – you need critique groups, editors, publishers, artists, and performers and crew (if it’s a script) to get your novel, short story, or play to the public.

Alternate reality games also require a team of people. In my group we have writers, editors, puzzle crafters, performers and crew, and a number of other positions (filled by only a handful of people who spread their skills out among several jobs). What’s the difference, then? It’s the order of things, really.

When I write a traditional project, here is the pattern I generally follow. Please note that not every writer works the same way:

  1. Generate idea
  2. Write a page or two to “feel” it out
  3. Outline a rough plot
  4. Discuss the plot with another writer
  5. Revise the plot
  6. Write some of the project
  7. Share early draft with critique partner(s)
  8. Revise and write more
  9. Rinse, repeat until finished
  10. Write query letters
  11. Send manuscript out
  12. Wait
  13. Sign contract (if accepted)
  14. Receive revision notes from editor
  15. Make revisions

At this point, depending on the project and the publisher, it may be generally out of my hands, or there may be a few other steps. Everything in red I do alone.

Here’s how I work on an ARG. Again, please note that not every writer works the same way:

  1. Generate idea
  2. Outline a rough plot
  3. Discuss plot with creative team
  4. Work with team to assign visual elements, puzzle elements, interactive elements
  5. Work with team to develop most of later plot
  6. Compile entire outline into sharable document
  7. Develop necessary game elements (video, physical items, websites) with team
  8. Write any early scripts that can be created ahead of time
  9. Share scripts with team
  10. Revise
  11. Agonize over many things, including lack of sleep
  12. Launch game
  13. Meet regularly with team to make necessary adjustments along the way
  14. Write in character to players, first clearing any important messages with team
  15. Rinse, repeat until end

There’s a lot less red here. Creating an ARG is a team effort from beginning to end, and that includes the time while the audience is experiencing the story. Creating a traditional project such as a novel, while team input is necessary, is different. For a novel, there is a single writer who often gets all the credit because he or she did the bulk of the work. And, once the project is out to the public, the writer can stop writing.

With an ARG, I have been the lead writer on some projects, but that doesn’t mean I did the bulk of the work. The entire group did, and we were all working the entire time on generating a story together, even after the audience got their hands on it. It’s exhausting and confusing and awesome all at once.  🙂

There are many other interesting differences between traditional projects and ARGs, but I’ll leave those for another post.

Do you think of your favorite writers as members of teams? If you’re a writer, what is your creative pattern?

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One response to “Is a Writer a Team Player? (ARG vs. Novel)

  1. Pingback: Obligations to ARG Audiences? (also outlines) | Irene L. Pynn's Blog

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