Writing Tech Ideas #2 — Canonicity

As a software developer who also writes fiction, I find myself occasionally coming up with software ideas for writers. Honestly, I’ll probably never put in the effort to make these things a reality, but I am curious if anyone else would be interested. Let me know in the comments if this is something you’d use.

The Premise

Writers are often depicted as quiet loners, toiling away in hours of solitude in front of a typewriter or computer. That may be true for some, but many writers seek each other out. There are many vibrant writing communities.

Not only that, but many writers love collaboration—whether it be co-authorship, shared worlds, TTRPGs or fan-fiction. Yet there are surprisingly few places where writers can gather to indulge in these communal writing activities.

Canonicity would be a website and community built around collaborative fiction and shared worlds, where writers from anywhere can work together to create ever-growing fictional universes.

Creating a Universe

The process starts with one or more authors creating a new shared universe. As the creators of this universe they are the admin(s), but they are also opening up their world as a playground for everyone else to come in, look around, and play.

The admin can publish stories, novels, art, and other world-building documents (collectively called stories) in their universe. They also have certain privileges, such as the ability to add other users as admins and mark stories as “canon.”

Collaborating

Other writers can come into a shared universe as participants. They can make their own stories in the admins’ universe. They can use characters and settings that already exist, or invent completely new ones that integrate with the previously created stories.

People can also simply join the universe as readers. Readers can comment and up-vote stories within the universe (whether they are marked as “canon” or not). They can add “tags,” which are short little descriptors of the story to help other readers find what they’re looking for (a bit like Steam tags).

Admins can pick other participants’ stories that are especially high quality or especially well integrated into the existing universe, and mark them as “canon.” This allows the admins to curate a core collection that they feel represents their shared universe. However, users can also sort by votes, view counts, or tags to get more of a community opinion of the best Stories in a shared universe.

Tags can also be used by the community to identify offshoots of the curated “canon” universe, when it grows large enough to have its own identifiable alternate universes.

Monetization

Even as a website that’s primarily serving text, there are going to be costs to keep a live service like this up and running. Monetization offers its own challenges, including more scrutiny of copyright issues. Fan fiction, which should arguably be transformative fair use, is a copyright claim magnet. Even if those claims are spurious, as soon as lawyers have to be involved, things get expensive. Not to mention the kinds of trolls who will happily upload someone else’s bestselling story just to cause trouble.

There are a lot of ways Canonicity could be monetized, but the most effective would probably be to allow authors to monetize their stories and take some percentage. Paid stories (or a paid token system) would be a monetization route that many other fiction services use. Typically the service takes a cut, and the remainder goes to the author. Another strategy might be a subscription service that splits the monthly fee among paid stories based on readership.

If we wanted to avoid paywalls, there are options like running ads alongside story content or paid aesthetic improvements like custom avatars, story backgrounds, themes and emojis.

That’s It

What do you think? Would you be interested in opening up your worlds for others to write in? Would you be interested in writing within universes that others have created?

Writing Tech Ideas #1 — Struggle Writer

As a software developer who also writes fiction, I find myself occasionally coming up with software ideas for writers. Honestly, I’ll probably never put in the effort to make these things a reality, but I am curious if anyone else would be interested. Let me know in the comments if this is something you’d use.

The Premise

There’s a truism in art: “constraints breed creativity.” Wide-open, endless possibilities make it harder to make something good. Humans tend to follow the same paths of thought when faced with a familiar situation, but unusual constraints force us to think in different and more creative ways.

Struggle Writer would be a tool that embraces this philosophy in a writing prompt generator.

Pick Your Constraints

Struggle Writer would come with lots of built-in constraints, such as:

  • Write from a specific POV:
    • 1st, 2nd, or 3rd
  • Limited word count:
    • 100, 500, 1000
  • Finish your story in one hour
  • Particular genre (from a list)
  • Include a particular word (chosen randomly from a dictionary or list)
  • Use a word you invent
  • Someone dies
  • Someone is born
  • Include a mystery
  • Include something scary
  • Include magic
  • Include death
  • Include a birth
  • Include an animal
  • Include a natural disaster
  • Include a flashback
  • Include a joke
  • Time of day: morning / evening / late at night
  • Use a literary device (chosen randomly from a list)

You can probably think of many more possibilities, which is why Struggle Writer would include a simple interface for adding custom prompts, or removing prompts you don’t like.

Mix and Match

Depending on how much challenge you want in your writing prompt, you would pick the number of “struggles” you want the tool to include. Then you click the button, and the tool selects that many to build you a randomized prompt.

Don’t like the result? Click the button to re-roll for a new prompt with the same parameters, or change your criteria before trying again.

I could even imagine an interface where you can “lock” specific results and re-roll the ones you don’t like, although that takes away a little bit of the randomness.

Bonus Features

While I think the tool would work pretty well as described above, some other, higher-effort additions might help to spice things up. These could include:

  • Randomized images
  • Randomized sound prompts
  • A connected website to:
    • Share prompts and templates
    • Share custom criteria
    • Share stories with their prompts
    • Upvote the best of each of these

That’s It

It’s a simple idea, but I think it could be a lot of fun for people who like to use writing prompts. The ability to add new options and remove old ones would keep it fresh.

What do you think? If it existed, would you use something like Struggle Writer?