You know the old joke; Q: What’s an elephant? A: A horse designed by a committee. That was my fear when I signed up to participate in a community novel. It sounded like a good idea; the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library was sponsoring a collaborative book written by volunteer writers. I knew some of the writers involved in the project from local author groups. They represented a variety of bright and engaging literary voices that covered the three Y’s, fantasy, mystery, and poetry. If we could slug it out in an editing ring and emerge with improved pieces, I figured we could collaborate long enough to spin a decent tale.

I approached the library and was added to the list of authors without review or question. Everybody was. The pool was much deeper than the little circle of talent I knew. There were writers of every genera, style, and experience level. The discussion over a plot outline was a polite debate between the romantic fantasists and the adventure shoot ‘em uppers. In good committee fashion we decided to write two books in one. Half the chapters would take place in the present with a female protagonist and half the chapters would be the flashbacks of a WWII veteran. He’s mysterious and she is out to discover his secret. It’s titled, “Superimposed.” Anymore disclosures and I’d have to issue a spoiler alert.

Excited about getting in the game I jumped at the opportunity to write one of the early chapters. I was to pen chapter 4, the second in the WWII flashback storyline. I’m an amateur student of the war and started writing my chapter before the ink was dry on the chapter I was to follow. As I reviewed the lead-in, the time, place, situation, and character being handed off to me, lesson number one of the community novel hit me between the eyes.

Have no expectations about what you might like to have passed along to you.

The previous author developed a situation and character that was nothing like what I would have done or expected. I couldn’t relate to the historical details as they were presented. It took a bit of inner dialogue but I finally realized that the whole point of the exercise is to do the best with whatever you are handed, not bitching about great expectations. After getting my mind right, I took on the challenge and developed the character along his established traits, warts and all. I addressed every crucial bend in the plot line and ran with it. By the time I reached the 2,000 word limit, I figured I had polished the story the best I could with my own shinola. I then passed a character and historically accurate drama, to my eye, off the next writer. That’s when I learned lesson number two of the community novel.

When you pass off your cherished chapter, let go of all investment and ownership.

The writer after me promptly killed my carefully nourished character.
Follow the link to my chapter and the rest of the novel as it is released in serial. http://tscpl.org/novel/superimposed-chapter-4


One thought on “Life and Death by Committee – The community novel.

  1. LOL.. And well he should have killed off the little whiner. But you bring up some excellent points regarding the process. This idea developed from NANOWRIMO, a yearly exercise in which writers take the task of writing a 50,000 word novel totally within the month of November–about 1,666 words a day. Little time for editing unless you have nothing else demanding your time. NANOWRIMO novels aren’t necessarily good — they’re just 50,000 words long. It’s a mildly bizarre exercise done with the hope that it’s good for you – it exercises a certain kind of discipline. This is also true of the community novel. It doesn’t have to be good… it just has to stay on schedule. That too, is a matter of discipline and the pursuit of a goal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s