Writing in Groups

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Author: Michael Bard

"In the last few months not only have I been involved in co-writing with Cubist (yes, One Small Step WILL be finished -- really!), I've gotten involved in two larger groups of people, each trying to create a single story in a single story universe."

A tingling begins in Bard's left hind foot and Bard taps it angrily on the floor, but the sound is not one of hooves on stone. Bard looks at it and watches as the blackish-gray hoof slowly lightens to a bluish-silver, and then explodes outwards into three clawed and scaled toes. He moves his leg and bends over so that his face is barely a foot away and glares at it. Slowly, with hesitations, the leg reverses its transformation. Each of the side toes shrinks back into the central toe which shortens and darkens, and then quickly finishes its reverse transformation back to the original blackish-gray hoof.

"Sorry about that. I think Mr. Brotzman has been passing around Diet Coke (tm) laced with draconic transformation MMPs.

"Now, where was I?" He picks a pile of papers off a nearby table and shuffles through them. "Oh right.

"For a group working on a single story (also termed a 'Round Robin' story, though that is only true if each person writes a part in sequence before turning it over to the next person) there needs to be a regular and secure method of communication. Cubist and I use AIM, the other groups I'm part of have each created a mail group to handle story submissions, critiques, ideas, thoughts, etc. Scheduled on-line chats also--"

With a loud thump, Bard falls onto his equine chest and, shocked, he turns around to watch his right fore-leg bend unnaturally upward until it is pointing almost directly vertical. The hair falls off in a soft rain, pushed aside by fine silver-blue scales. Then the limb begins to stretch, as the hoof splits into five individual strands that stretch up and behind. They grow longer, tearing at the skin which races to keep up with the growth, and finally stop after sprouting short silver and black claws. As they grow, they stretch out a thin leathery skin between them, forming taught leathery wings.

"That's quite ENOUGH out of you!"

The wings rotate down, sprouting a growing line of brown and white feathers. With a loud crack the joints reverse and dextrous claws grow from the elbow as the wings fold up below Bard's body holding him up as though they were a pair of legs. Hidden by them, Bard's flesh tears open like an out-of-control zipper, revealing lines of gills engorged with red blood.

"And I don't want to be an Ythri* either!"

With an audible sigh the gills seal shut, squeezing out a couple of droplets of blood, and the wings fold together like a chinese fan. The feathers fall out into the increasing pile of exuded body coverings and are replaced by chestnut hair as the elbow claws vanish and the strands contract back into a silver hoof.

Bard taps his right hind hoof impatiently. "And I want the proper colour."

His fore hooves flash through the spectrum, stopping for a second at fluorescent pink, before finally returning to their original blackish-gray.

"Stupid MMPs. Now, where was... oh right.

"Scheduled on-line chats are highly useful in working out problems and setting schedules and plans, although arranging a good time for a widely spaced group of people can be problematic.

"The other--"

Once again Bard falls down onto his equine chest, the impact blowing the wind out of him in a sudden snort, and once again his forelegs rotate up and fan out into wings. But this time, other changes occur. Bard's glorious tail sheds its hair in a repetitive rain of long thin strands leaving behind an ugly naked snake for just long enough to be embarrassing before exploding backward in girth and length and growing a covering of silver-blue scales. Meanwhile, his hid legs thicken into armoured pedestals of draconic fury and the once glorious hooves shatter, firing pieces of hoof across the room like musket fire shredding an American Rebel line, and then the naked, blood soaked bone extends outward into three forward claws and one backward claw before growing thick silver scales with a popping sound like the vastly magnified opening of a violently shaken Diet Coke (tm) can. Only when the scales are complete does the sound of ripping cloth bring your attention back to Bard's once human torso as it shrinks and stretches into a pale fleshy snake that sucks Bard's face into its end. His arms fall off, grow fingers at what had once been their shoulders, and then pull themselves along the ground before digging their way into Bard's flesh below the wings that had once been his fore legs. Like his hind legs they thicken and harden into armoured silver columns and the fingers thicken losing their once graceful painting dexterity. Bard's upper torso, now his neck, thickens at its base, and then a bluish-silver colour pours from his now double-shoulders upwards, flowing like paint along a surface if gravity had been reversed. Scales tear through the tattered skin which falls to the ground in shreds. Bard's head pushes its way out of the end of the snake like a groundhog not really wanting to look for its shadow, stretching out into a snout filled with sharp carnivore teeth. Each eye blinks its pair of eyelids (one transparent one not) as holes fall into the top of the forehead and then grow outward into ears. From the back of his had and all down along his spine the last bits of unscaled flesh remaining tremble and... stop.

Bard hisses and spits, and a blob of freezing impossibility speeds from his mouth onto the table with his papers turning it all to an ice sculpture that shatters like glass. Bard rolls his eyes. "Fine. You might as well finish now."

With that, his spine explodes into a line of spikes that extend from the back of his head down to the tip of his tail, each horn growing like a wildly accelerated volcanic island into a tower of black-tipped silver. Two horns burst out beneath each ear and grow outward, curving like... let's not go there -- this is a family editorial. And with that it stops.


All the scales wiggle in acknowledgement.


All the scales wiggle in happy acknowledgement.

Bard rolls his eyes again.

"I'd better finish this before Posti comes in with a horse MMU.

"Anyway, the other important, possibly more important, thing is an outline. Before anybody starts writing you should have an outline and an idea of where the group story is going to go. This should not be written in stone, indeed it should be open to modification, but is a vital tool so that every knows what is going--"

Bard's tail curls and a couple of scales fall out replaced by long horse-hair strands. Turning his neck Bard stretches back until the tip of his snout is fractions of a millimeter from one of the hairs. "Don't you dare." A dribble of saliva falls onto the nearest hair and it bursts into flame with a faint scream of pain.

All the hairs flash like an over-charged camera and return to being scales.

Bard sighs. "The other useful thing to have is a list of characters, with names, descriptions, motivations, appearance, and other useful information. Others will want to use him/her/it, and by putting all this down each writer can insure that the character that he/she/it created remains reasonably constant in appearance and attitude throughout the story.

"And that's most of what you need to know. Group stories can be extremely rewarding. Others will add things you never thought of, things will go off in weird and wondrous directions. When these stories work, great and amazing transformations occur, and the world is enriched by the resulting creation.

"When it works."

The ding of an oven timer echoes through the room.

"And I finish just in time for dinner. Now..."

Bard walks, though slithers would be a better term, over to the oven, looks at the now tiny pair of oven gloves, sighs, and opens the oven with his armoured hands. Oblivious to the heat he reaches in and pulls out a large glass casserole pot containing lasagna drenched in five cheeses and assorted spices. A mouth watering aroma fills the room. Spinning on his hind legs, Bard puts the pot on the cupboard and then stops.

"Mr. Brotzman, that does it. THAT DOES IT!"

Bard spins around and oozes through the door.



His roar fades in the distance.

  • Created by Poul Anderson in his Polesotechnic and Terran Empire stories.