Sunday, August 10, 2008

Live, Crowdsourced Content Creation

Stephen Sullivan, author of dozens of novels and the Origins Award-winning Podo and the Magic Shield, is hard at work on a project called Tournament of Death, a 'live-novel' written entirely during the Olympics. He's also relying heavily on user input and feedback to develop the story. For example, there's a poll on the Tournament of Death blog asking 'Things [you] want to see killed in the Tournament of Death are:' Of course I voted 'everybody' because it's a tournament of death!

Stephen's project combines two really interesting things in a way I'm not exactly sure has been done before: crowdsourcing plot points by asking community members and readers what they want to see happen and allowing them to have a real effect on the events in the novel; and a restrictive writing environment. In this case, writing only during the 2008 Olympics. It's a fabulous little experiment and the first post is pretty awesome.

Also, Stephen wrote a hell of a press release for this, which I'm going to simply copy and paste here because it's so great. I wish my clients would let me write press releases like this for them. It's a short story in and of itself.

    Tournament of Death is a special writing challenge conceived and executed by award-winning fantasy author Stephen D. Sullivan.

    The writing of the story will take place over the 16 days of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

    "I was looking at my schedule and wondering what kind of work I'd get done during those two weeks," Sullivan said. "The Olympics is kind of a holiday in our house. We love it, and we try to watch as much coverage as we can. Then it hit me: what if my work for those two weeks became connected to the games?"

    Sullivan came up with the idea of writing as he watched the Olympics and letting his work be inspired by both the games and by interaction with fans during that two-week period.

    "I haven't done any actual writing yet," Sullivan said, "though I may work on the prologue before the games begin. After that, I'll be doing one chapter of the story each day. Each chapter will be at least 1000 words long, so, at the end of the Olympiad, I'll have — at minimum — a decent-sized novella."

    The episodes will be published on Sullivan's site,, and on his blog —, and on his author page at

    "I have an idea of where I'm going with the story," he said, "and I have a few characters in mind, but there's nothing set in stone. Inspiration for writing can come from a lot of places. I know watching the Olympics will really get the creative juices flowing. I'm also interested in feedback on the concept from my readers. They'll be able to comment on my blog and send messages through my email. Once the story gets running, I'll have some lists of characters for people to vote on, too."

    Because the project will be the majority of Sullivan's work for those two weeks, he will also have a donation form set up on PayPal.

    "I'm a professional freelance writer," he said. "If I don't work, I don't get paid. So it's risky for me to devote a couple of weeks to something like this. I'm hoping the readers will support me in this experiment. And if they do, I'll write them into the story."

    Sullivan plans to have a list — a "banzuke," he called it — of people supporting the project. "There will be Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels of participation. There will be a spectator level, too, for small donations, with participants listed on the web site. Finally, there will be a Champion level, where the donor will actually be written into the story as a contestant — though I won't promise that anyone written into the story will survive."

    However, "dead" contributors will live on, when the online project becomes a printed book.

    "Though I have a small publishing house of my own, Walkabout Publishing, I will be pursuing all printing options," Sullivan said. "One way or another, Tournament of Death will be available in print and at Amazon after it's done. It'd be nice if a big publisher picks it up. We'll just have to see what the reaction is."

    Either way, Sullivan hopes to have the book out by the end of 2008.

    "Assuming I don't crash and burn," he said wryly. "There's always that possibility. Since this is a live event, it's going to be like walking a tightrope — not a lot of room for error. I hope people will tune in and see how I do."

    The live, online version of Tournament of Death will run from August 8th to 17th, 2008.
Full Disclosure: Stephen is a member of my writing group, the Alliterates, and is the editor of the Blue Kingdoms anthologies in which some of my fiction has appeared.

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