Team-Produced Stories: An Author Perspective

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The stereotype of the lonely writer scribbling away in isolation is an old and entrenched one. And for good reason. Being the vessel for great stories and characters to emerge into words takes a lot of thought, writing, and re-writing – and these are solitary activities.

But the way we entertain and inform these days is challenging this time-honored process. The author now faces a world where words are becoming a part of a heady mix of visual appeal, animation and audio that take teams to build. I’m referring mainly to apps, although harnessing the full potential of ebooks also requires a team effort, particularly when it comes to multimedia elements.

Of course I am not denying that there is still a role for the traditional book, but authors, already great storytellers, would be foolish to ignore emerging modes for storytelling. A good example of this at work is in children’s books, where words co-star (or even act as support) to the visual elements.


Related: Digital Book Awards


It Starts With a Story

As apps and, to a lesser extent, enhanced ebooks, become more widespread, authors’ skills are either being discounted as multimedia elements increase in scope and importance, leading me to wonder if authors are necessary in this brave new digital landscape.

When you factor in the programming, illustration, design, visual arts, music, narration and sound effects, writing seems like it does not constitute a huge element of app creation. But while the words are an important part of the app, they are just that – a part of it.

So is it goodbye to the stereotype of the lonely writer? Not for all authors, but many will increasingly find themselves working in a team environment, with the words they write often shaped by the requirements of the project and the constraints placed upon it by technological and design considerations.

For children’s authors, this is nothing new. They are already conscious of the way the text will sound when read aloud, and used to working with illustrators.

Other authors might be challenged by the way that apps bypass the traditional approach of reading and information in a linear fashion (as dictated by the author). But I believe empowering readers to have more control over the way they absorb and interact with the content is worth the challenge – and I think most authors like to see readers given further opportunity engage with their work.


New Modes for Storytelling

Apps present information in a way that keeps up with the changing habits of readers. The question is, how true can authors’ stay to their stories in this team environment, and does this new process of working erode the author’s role as storyteller?

I take heart in our early oral storytelling tradition, where word was passed down between generations. These stories were inevitably changed over time as their custodians brought new experiences and changing world views to the tale, and memories failed. Yet the very collaborative nature of these stories means that they are culturally sacrosanct – valuable because they have grown and been contributed to by the populace that shares them.

It’s nice to think that the collaborative nature of digital storytelling might serve as a continuation of this tradition.

9 thoughts on “Team-Produced Stories: An Author Perspective

  1. Marcus Parsons

    As you recognize, the increasing integration of other media with literature won’t end solitary creation. Many authors will become reasonably adept not just in writing words but also in creating web sites, art, photographs, video, animation, audio, etc. by themselves, as part of their creations. I’m one example ( among many. As ever, all it takes is a lot of training, persistence, desire, and imagination. That’s not to suggest that working collaboratively isn’t often the best way for an author to go. As in other arts (i.e., film, TV, theater, dance, etc.), there are sure to be many spectacular examples of team-produced literature.

  2. Michael W. Perry

    Maybe, maybe not. For most authors, dealing with multi-media makes no sense. It costs quite a bit to create all that sound and video and, apart from a few speciality areas, the public has never shown any interest in multi-media despite press hyping that’s recurred over and over again since the late 1980s (with CD-ROMs). When people want to read a book, they want to read not hop from media to media, least of all the poorly done videos that are all a typical author can afford. Better nothing than something badly done.

    What does make sense for writers is using the right tools. Don’t write in Word. Write in an app intended for writing like Scrivener. Once that book is substantially done, move it into an app that’s intended for publication and do the layout and final editing there. The key is to use for publishing an app that’s designed for both print and digital output. I use InDesign, but similar products exist, although some, like Apple’s iBooks Author, only export to one system.

    When I lived in Seattle, I tried to get a videographer to launch an branch of his business that interviews authors about their book. With a bit of practice, he’d probably be able to create them quickly and inexpensively (i.e. doing the interview on a dock and using shots of seagulls etc, so it wasn’t all a talking head). And that author’s interview, available online, would be one good way to use media to sell a book.

    I’ve begun to use to use pictures more often, often starting each chapter with an inexpensive stock photo. The photo, I remind myself, need only have a loose link to the story. For a novel I recently released, which was set in rural 1870s NC, I used pictures of rural life taken as late as the 1930s. I told my readers that life for the rural poor changed little over that entire period. Ill-fed children in flour-sack clothing in front of unpainted shacks did not change. You can see what that looks like in the free sample from Amazon or Apple.

    Adding more pictures, either stock photos of those you take yourself, can add much to a book without creating a lot of expense or demanding a lot of time. And if you know someone who’s great with line sketches, you might work with them to illustrate each chapter, much like a late nineteenth-century magazine.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride

    1. JJ Gadd

      Yes agreed Michael, and even better if you have friends in related fields such as design and illustration who can do things for editorial or what we call in Australia ‘mate’s rates’! Because as you say better to get the professional help if you can afford it…

  3. Jeany Wolf

    As I responded to your earlier post, it’s a real service for authors to engage in this ongoing conversation. The Zoetic Press ebook app will give you a sense of how layers of content can be added. It seems that there is an audience of readers who want this type of nonlinear reading, navigating at their choice, and certainly writers who look to create this type of interactive writing. But, of course, this doesn’t apply for all writers and readers.

    Seeing it in action here as a free download for ipad is the best way to see the possibilities.
    Would be very interested to know what you think.

  4. Jeany Wolf

    As I responded to your earlier post, this is a great service for authors, to participate in this ongoing conversation. There is clearly an audience of readers who want to engage more deeply with the text in a nonlinear form, and writers who have stories to tell using this multi-threaded narrative. Certainly it doesn’t work for everyone. For those looking for this, the best way to understand how it works is to sample a piece.

    E.g, The Strangely Browne Episode by Lise Quintana is four scenes written from four different character perspectives. You can read one character all the way through or toggle between characters within a scene. The Zoetic Press app is a free download for iPad.
    I’d be very interested in your feedback.

    1. JJ Gadd

      Hi Jeany, I’ve responded to your other post but further, the Strangely Browne Episode was great fun! It’s wonderful to see writing given such a 360degree opportunity, makes me optimistic about what I might achieve for future writing projects.

  5. daveneal

    Well, of course movies, TV shows, musicals, have always been collaborations. Very few people have all the necessary skills to produce them. And often, they start from a book! Is Harry Potter books or movies? Some folks only consume one format or the other, some both read and watch. I needed two additional animators, 19 voices, and a keyboard player to produce Alicewinks. But Lewis Carroll and the 12 artists whose images I used are dead, so they were hard to collaborate with!

    In the eBook version of Alicewinks, you can watch the video (which includes a dramatic reading, not an adaptation) or look at the images, or read the text (with image thumbnails). So there are three narrative paths through the same story (using your favorite tool, the hyperlink.) You can also hyperlink through a single artists vision. And from image to text.

    1. JJ Gadd

      Hi David, I’ve now had a chance to download and have a look at Alicewinks – love it. It did take me a few minutes to get used to receiving an old favorite in such a new form but once I had I really enjoyed it. I think the animations capture the playful spirit of the original book beautifully. And of course, the use of the old illustrations was gorgeous eye candy. Must have been a fun project to work on (and a labor of love I expect!). Maybe the problem for authors is HOW to connect with all of these platforms and projects and opportunities… I’d love to work on something like this, or TV scriptwriting. It’s fun to challenge your writing to meet different shapes and forms and expectations.



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