Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Today, on the chopping block: Torn World

I've been putting this chopping block post off - at first because I was looking forward to it so much, so I held it as my reward for finishing all the others. Then Val (one of our more active members!) died, and that turned the topic bittersweet: for a while there, I don't think I COULD have written it. It came together today as I got ready to do the Muse Fusion wrapup.

Torn World has been open for just shy of a year now, since January 1, 2010. In that time, we have posted 101 stories, 35 poems, and 87 pieces of artwork, plus dozens of world-building articles and characters. 25 contributors have provided this work. Our canon board consists of 7 people (with me), and we do careful editing on everything that is posted as canon, to ensure that it fits the world and continuity and is of sufficient quality. Several people have expressed so far that the process has really improved their writing, and we've had no real disasters of ego.

The site

The site - while not what I would consider completely finished - is honestly a wonder. It's got tours, fiction and metafiction management, a character database, artwork galleries, online submissions complete with very powerful review tools, and it manages the karma and credits system, as well as supporter subscriptions. It's got an interactive map, and the stories and characters and articles are all strongly cross-linked. I am extremely proud of what I've accomplished with the structure of the site, and even though I can see lots of places to improve it and projects to add, DUDE. This is a helluva site, if I do say so myself, and it has improved wildly since it was first released.


It's slowed down from the first few months, at least in forum discussion and comments, but the content continues to flow in, and the statistics at the site are very encouraging: we get about 3000 page views every day, and continue to attract new readers, even if relatively few of them register or comment.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who felt it worthwhile to subscribe as paid readers, and many of them come back for seconds when their accounts expire, which tells me we're offering them something for their hard-earned money. They are quiet, but clearly sincere in their support, and we've got more than $200 in credits floating around in the system waiting to be captured by exceptional work.

It's also possible to earn money off-site for the work created for Torn World, which is great to witness and be party to myself - I never wanted the site to be the only place for creators to earn money from their Torn World material, and I'm happy to see people submitting their stories to outside magazines, as well as earning direct sponsorships. Most of what I know about and have received myself I'd consider token payment, but it's early days and an amazing pickup to me, personally. Having grown the collaborative and shared world idea from general fandom where nobody better collect money, it's quite a nice development on the idea, I think.

Muse Fusions

Our Muse Fusions are one of the best things we came up with: every month or so, we open up the floor for audience prompts and spend a day or so creating material to order. They generate a whole lot of creative material, and are wildly inspiring to me, personally, as well as to others. Muse Fusions and their success are directly responsible for spawning Sketch Fest. They may not make anybody rich, but they do act as a really fabulous way to track reader interest, involve our audience, and put the butt in the chair to crank out some work with the creative support of others.

Sharing a World

I blogged about the shared world experience a month in over here: http://ellenmillion.livejournal.com/1020511.html

A lot of that is still true: it's HARD to share your own creative child with other people, and it's so amazingly, incredibly, fabulously rewarding when it all comes together.

The world itself - is incredible. We've got a diversity of cultures and ecosystems that I couldn't have come up with on my own, and a fascinating cast of characters. It is enormous fun watching them weave together, and finding intersections of plot that no one ever intended. There is a lot of reward for people invested in details, and it is an adventure watching the layering occur. You never know what throw-away reference is going to spawn a completely new story, or which NPC character is going to suddenly leap into a completely unrelated storyline and start carving a new path. I'm... impressed by the cohesiveness we've maintained, considering the chaos of individual writers and artists tackling things entirely out of order. We hop around on the timeline like mad, and thrust completely new locations and cultures into the mix at random.

It's a bit like a musical jam - a lot of musicians, playing very different instruments, improvising off in their corners like an orchestra tuning, and two of them hit a groove, and the others jump in, and suddenly there's this rich, incredibly full song being played, with one of those melodies that haunts your dreams later. Something in the soul just vibrates, being part of something so beautiful and powerful and spontaneous, and it's worth noodling around through the musical chaos to get there.

Personal achievements

49 50 (one went up today!!) of those stories that have been posted are mine (plus one poem!). If I count the pieces in the queue, I've written more than a story a week, plus a gazillion articles, and all the coding on the site. AND a rough draft of a novel!!! I've also done some rather major artwork, notably these three:

I have improved dramatically in my writing skills this year, I feel. I can sit down and deliberately spin out words, without having to wait for the fickle muse. After what, SEVEN years of attempting NaNoWriMo, this is the year I finally won, and I blame Torn World for that - not only for its structure and background material, but also for teaching me how to sit down and crank the work out.

And... it's almost all felt like fun. It's not the drudgery and 'gotta' that I feared it would be. I'm excited to spin these tales, and I'm sketching sloppy story scenes like I was in my most inspired times at Kadanzer or Rushwater. It's got all the energy and fun of a hobby - and a scary amount of potential to be more.


It's not perfect yet. There is a laundry list of things I want to do to the site:

  • Language Database and tools
  • Better tours
  • More cross-linking (more! more!)
  • More powerful timeline tools, including for individual characters, so you'd be able to know where any given person was on any given date.
  • More resources!
  • More automation for karma and subscriptions
  • Character approvals at the site
  • Improve approval turnaround

    Most critical to me, personally, I want to make it easier to jump into the project. Three people in exactly as many days have independently told me that they really want to get involved, but find it daunting. Not that they didn't have time, which I can appreciate (oh, YEAH), but that they weren't sure how, or they were actually too intimidated to.

    I... can totally get that: the sheer amount of detail to wade through is epic. And I'm not entirely sure how to fix it, other than to insist that OMG, you guys - it is so worth that first step! The editing board is incredibly good, and you have to know that I wouldn't let them be mean, even if they are picky, and it's so helpful a process that I would like to submit my non-Torn World stories to them. We're really happy to help correct world/canon problems, so you don't need to worry too much about knowing EVERYTHING perfectly before you get started. It's useful to read the contributor's starting article, which spawns off to the most critical information. The forums, though far quieter now than when we started, are still a great place to say hello and bounce ideas around!

    I wish I could promise more comments than we get - and I really need to step up and do my share there, but if you like cross-weaving stories, and having control of your own characters, and dancing at the edges of big, huge, world-bending plots, it's so incredibly rewarding and exciting. Our pace is somewhat slow - we don't maintain a strict x for x timeline so that it's marching along without us, and that sometimes means plot lags, but the opportunity to go in and fill in delicious plot holes with side trips and gems of character exploration is worth it. It's seriously like writing fanfiction for your own work - all the world-building structure is already there to play with, and there are so many wonderful, already-developed figures to bounce your own characters off of, plus as much collaborative back and forth as you want. You are welcome to play with the primary figures, too, and so many of them have ready-to-build stories in the history sections of their character sheets. Just add words! Or art!

    And if you have other ideas about what would make getting involved easier, I am all ears! I would love any thoughts you might have about making the project accessible and enjoyable, as a reader or contributor.

    Chopping block conclusion

    Torn World is here to stay. I am still so, so excited about this project. I've had a rather difficult year, and even when this project went directions I didn't anticipate, or activity was down, or I was second-guessing my decisions and being a grumpy grouch because things felt too chaotic or I wanted things I couldn't understand or express, Torn World was a terrific comfort to me. It is thrilling to find a new submission in the queue, and watch the world unfold a tiny bit more with each new poem or piece of art. It's like watching a flower bloom - slow and gorgeous and amazing.

    For Christmas? I'd like it if more of my wildly talented friends got involved. :) I want to share this with you!
  • Tags: chopping block, torn world

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    • A moment with a raven.

      Belly dance last night was under cold, crystal clear blue skies, the sun casting long shadows on crunchy golden leaves. It was nice to be outside,…

    • Various morning thoughts and daily blogging...

      The Safeway pickup was painless. They were out of a few things (flour—not shocking, cherry pie filling, soap, English muffins, lime juice, chocolate…

    • More mural!

      It doesn't quite capture the colors we have, but it dried considerably darker than we'd hoped. We have decided to paint a few areas over…