It has been said that a million monkeys typing might one day produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Then the Internet came along, and disproved the theory.
Still, some people haven’t given up hope. Publisher Penguin Putnam has just launched amillionpenguins.com, the world’s first collaborative, Wiki-based novel. “The buzz these days is all about the network, the small pieces loosely joined,” the project description begins. “But what about the novel? Can a collective create a believable fictional voice? How does a plot find any sort of coherent trajectory when different people have a different idea about how a story should end-–or even begin? And, perhaps most importantly, can writers really leave their egos at the door?”
Over the next five weeks, amillionpenguins.com aims to learn. According to Jeremy Ettinghausen on the Penguin blog, this is an open-ended experiment, fueled by curiosity, with no expectations or projections as to how it will all turn out. A team of creative writing students has “seeded” the novel to get the ball rolling, and Jon Elek of Penguin’s Viking imprint will be monitoring s progress and reporting on the project’s blog.
The project has generated a lot of attention–and input. As of this writing, there’s the makings of sixteen chapters, as well as an alarmingly large cast of characters, some with extensive (and very amusing) biographies. Some people seem to be taking the exercise pretty seriously; others appear to be actively attempting to sabotage the, er, narrative flow (see Chapter Three and a Half). As you might expect, it’s disjointed, repetitive, and no one part of it bears any obvious relationship to any other part (except the bits that have been copied verbatim from one chapter to another). But it’s early days yet.
Will the end result be readable, or even make sense? Having lived in collective housing, I don’t have much faith in the wisdom of collectives (especially the ability of any invidividual member to clean the collective bathrooms). Still, this a fascinating experiment, and it’ll be interesting to watch how it shapes up over the next few weeks.