June 5, 2008 / 5:59 AM / 10 years ago

Crafting a novel with a thousand authors

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Crafting a novel can be a painstaking process but two Indians are hoping to avoid writer’s block by getting more than 1,000 people to work on their book.

Anubhav Jain and Dhruv Bhushan, graduates of the Indian Institute of Management, hope to showcase a work of fiction written by as many people as possible when their online novel is completed at the end of the month.

The men started OurOwnBook.com (ourownbook.com) in March this year, unsure whether their experiment would succeed. By Wednesday, 1,070 people had signed up to co-write the novel and 25 chapters of the work-in-progress were up on the website.

“Almost 70 percent is complete. On average, every two days we are finishing a chapter,” the 24-year-old Jain said.

The website founders provided the basic plot for the novel -- a business tycoon, held hostage at a warehouse in 2028, is reflecting on his life.

Their army of writers took care of the rest.

As the novel started taking shape, moderators Jain and Bhushan provided a summary and cues after each chapter to maintain the narrative flow and ensure new users don’t stray too far from the protagonist Srijan.

No contributor can submit more than 300 characters -- letters and punctuation marks -- at any given time. “This is so that one person does not hijack the story based on his ideas,” Jain said.

Despite these precautions, Jain and Bhushan have a tough time choosing submissions -- on some days there’s one every minute -- and they often delete inappropriate or inconsistent posts.


Given the large number of contributors, creative control over the submissions on OurOwnBook.com is a necessity.

But not all wannabe writers are convinced.

Shiva, a blogger identified only by his first name, said he stopped contributing after some of his posts were rejected.

"Several posts were erased to facilitate a storyline that just blares on about an infatuation between two teens to a point of no return and the terminology used is worse than cloying," he wrote on his blog (iamconcerned.blogspot.com).

Jain admits that having so many co-authors may explain why the novel’s draft is riddled with grammatical errors.

Once the online version is complete, the moderators will edit the draft for errors and refine the text before preparing the novel for possible publication.

Although co-authors will have no share in revenue earned by the book, the moderators have promised to acknowledge their contribution in the print edition.

If all goes as planned, OurOwnBook.com is to start similar genre-based projects in the future.

As for what eventually happens to the business tycoon in the novel, Jain doesn’t know yet.

“If something innovative comes up, we are ready to accept that as the climax,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll write the climax ourselves.”

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