Friday, February 02, 2007

Writing by committee

Based on the principles of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, the novel, called "A Million Penguins," is open to anyone to join in, write and edit. None of the words, characters or plot twists will be attributed to any individual and - and this is the element of the project most likely to bruise delicate egos - participants are free to edit, chop and change other writers' work.

In an effort to avoid the kinds of "reversion wars" which blight Wikipedia, a "core team" of students from De Montfort's Creative Writing and New Media course will act as moderators and the ethical guidelines listed on the wiki urge contributors to "be polite" and to treat others' contributions as they would like their own to be treated. Nonetheless, it is a shot in the dark, as Penguin acknowledge.

"To be honest, we don't know exactly what is going to happen or how this will turn out," says Jeremy Ettinghausen, Penguin's digital publisher. "We hope people will enter into it in the spirit we intend and leave their egos at the door. It's not about individual work and individual brilliance - it's about people working together as a community".
The short, sarcastic comeback to this idea is that Hollywood has been doing it for years -- it's called screenwriting.

I doubt this will ever bear fruit, if only because it ignores the notion that artistic singularity is what makes great works great -- the complexity and variance of a singular point of view. It's eminently democratic, of course, but chances are Penguin will end up with a muddle that pleases no one in an attempt to appeal to everyone. Furthermore, I submit to you that neither "polite" nor "ethical" are terms that will grease the wheels of literary innovation.

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