MMU Good Practice Exchange


Creative Lectures: Collaborative Novels

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Project Details

Kirsty Bunting: The session featured here was about collaboratively authored novels from the 1890s and in particular the 'round robin' novel authored by large groups of writers. The students are third year undergraduates nearing the end of their degrees.

The session's learning outcomes were: to encourage students to explore the pros and cons of co-authorship (both for writers and readers of multiply-authored fiction); to think about why collaboratively authored texts are often considered to be somehow secondary to solitary authorship; to ask what impact this might have on canon formation.

The session began with an ice-breaking activity in which we likened the 'round robin' novel to the nineteenth century parlour game 'consequences'. Students worked in groups of seven, each person writing a short phrase which was concealed from the rest of the group. At the end of the activity these were joined together and their 'narrative' was revealed. By reducing sequential authorship to a fun writing activity students came to understand how 'round robin' novels were often considered to be little more than literary gimmicks or games of detecting and attribution.

This was followed by a short, formal lecture element on collaboration and its reception in the nineteenth century. Students then worked in groups on a brainstorming activity where they listed first the benefits of writing in partnership and then the problems that come with shared literary endeavour. Students were also encouraged to reflect upon their own experiences of reading collaboratively produced writing. To prepare for this they had all read in advance 'The Fate of Fenella', a novel by 24 authors. They noted down their ideas onto flip-chart paper and shared these with the whole group in what became a lively discussion.

Finally, I set the group task of writing their own 'round robin'. Students found their own groups of 5 co-authors and established their own rules and strategies for authorship. My only condition was that students could not pre-plan/plot out their narrative, it must develop organically, as the 'Fate of Fenella' did, each author simply responding to the chapter provided by the author writing before them.

Students were given a fortnight to complete their 'round robin' project. They will present them to the whole group in seminars.

Contact Details:

Kirsty Bunting
Interdisciplinary Studies, English Literature

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