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Can A Million Penguins be wrong..

July 20th, 2010 by karenmartin

“Software is rarely written in a vacuum and indeed the “open source” movement is built on the premise that collaboration is the only way to get bugs spotted and move forward. Scientific research, too, is more often than not a collaborative activity – and peer review is key to checking and honing the development of scientific ideas.

However, is the same true in artistic fields? We are used to the romantic notion of the artist or the novelist working alone in an attic room, or in the shed at the bottom of the garden. As James Joyce memorably put it, the artist forges in the “smithy of [his] soul”. Yet many of the most highly regarded television programmes of recent years are written by teams of writers; and the majority of films go through rigorous screen testing exercises (and are often altered as a result) before they reach the paying customer. The painters Holbein and Titian, among any number of their contemporaries, used students to add the detail to their pieces before signing them, a tradition continued to this day by Damien Hirst who openly acknowledges the contribution of his studio team.

But what about the novel? Can a collective create a believable fictional voice? How does a plot find any sort of coherent trajectory when different people have a different idea about how a story should end – or even begin? And, perhaps most importantly, can writers really leave their egos at the door?”

And so it began – Penguin’s 2007 experiment into the online collaborative novel. I came across the A Million Penguins project as I begin my investigation into sharing the making of books or in this case, a novel. Penguin set up a wiki where authors could contribute, edit and delete a collaborative novel. You can read the novel – and about the process that went through – at www.amillionpenguins.com.

On the Institute for the Future of the Book blog there is an insightful and analytic post by Ben Vershbow discussing the merits of the project as an idea and as a novel. Ben concludes that a wiki is probably the wrong format for the online collaborative novel. So if not wiki – what?


not quite a million penguins (via penguinsland.blogspot.com)

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