Would You Read a Crowdsourced Novel?

A Chicago artist is trying to write the first user-submitted work of literature, 140 characters at a time.

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Just think of the things we can thank crowdsourcing for: Wikipedia. Kickstarter. Urban Dictionary. Nazis on the Moon.

Is its next stop literature?

That’s what Willy Chyr, a Chicago-based artist and the creator of  The Collabowriters, is trying to do. The Collabowriters is an experiment in creating a novel “written by the internet.”

Here’s how it works: The novel is written one sentence at a time, with each sentence maxing out twitter-style at 140 characters. Every line is selected from a number of user submissions. The community votes on each sentence, giving it a score of either -1 or +1. The sentence with the highest score over 5 stays, and submissions for the next sentence start.

Chyr explains the experiment as a kind of democratization of the novel. Plotlines? Narrative structure? That’s up to the users to decide.

It makes you think differently about literature. Always thought of as the product of some individual genius, crowdsourcing turns the novel into a collaborated effort. Currently the work on Collabowriters has 6 paragraphs and focuses on a widower named Zachary. Here’s an excerpt:

“The barbed sweet stenches of sewage wafting up between the ice cracks on the canal were arrogantly broadcasting an early spring. From somewhere across the canal, a soft sound was barely audible over the moan of shifting ice and garbage: “Help.” Zachary stopped, at first unsure of what he had heard.”

The story is a bit eerie and jumpy (naturally) in a kids-telling-stories-around-a-campfire sort of way. So what’s next to be crowdsourced? Here are some of our predictions:

Legislation: Imagine fighting government bureaucracy one user submitted line at a time. Reddit has already tried to crowdsource a Free Internet Act.

Recipes: While the potential for disaster is high, so is the chance we’ll end up with an interesting and adventurous cookbook: Extreme Cooking anyone?

Song Lyrics: Seriously, how do you think they came up with ‘My Humps‘?

VIDEO: ‘Iron Sky’ Filmmaker on Crowdsourcing His Blockbuster