One of my favorite and most memorable exercises in my old Creative Writing class was the impromptu collaborative story: the students at the front of the class would each start a story on a sheet of paper. After about five minutes, they would stop where they were — mid sentence or no — and pass their papers to the students behind them. Those students would pick up the stories from there, continue them for another five minutes, and then pass them on again. When the stories got to the back of the class, the instructor would collect them and read them aloud. I found the exercise to be a fun and surprising way to test our skills. It gave us the opportunity to not only create on short notice, but to work with the styles and ideas of our peers without any contact or planning. It was writing improv.
If you have an iPhone, you can enjoy this exercise anytime you like, using an app called Inkvite. Well, at least, you could. The basic activity is still there, but with the app’s recent update from version 1 to version 2, the goal of the community has shifted from having fun writing to BECOMING AS POPULAR AS POSSIBLE.
Inkvite is a writing app that allows online users to collaborate on stories. One user creates a story, chooses its genre and length, and then “inkvites” up to three other users to partake in the project. The users then take turns writing the story in 280-character (or “two-tweet”) chunks, and the story ends once a set number of exchanges is completed. It’s then published to a library for all users to read and rate.
The free app provides a good number of genres to choose from, including fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, though you can make in-app purchases to use more specific genres. Some of them are quite particular, too: there are genres for Vampires and Werewolves, and One Direction fan fiction, so all your preteen make-out scenarios are covered.
You can also write solo stories, but really, why would you use this app for that? Some folks found uses for solo stories, but as you’ll see, they have little creative value.
The first version of Inkvite was pretty glorious. I had a lot of fun putting together stories of all kinds, from comedies to adventures, enjoying and adapting to the surprises and plot twists that my fellow writers tossed into their exchanges. The app had no channel for communication between users, so there was no way to plan. If a writer and I found we shared a certain chemistry, we would simply inkvite each other to create more stories. If the story went in a direction I didn’t expect or like, I just had to work with it. I understand that this half-blind approach might be frustrating for control freaks, but the point of impromptu collaborative writing is to share the reins, to play catch with the creative process. Inkvite 1.0 taught me to trust and not to take it all so seriously.
Then, Inkvite grew up to version 2.0, and something went wrong. The library became crammed with solo stories that weren’t stories. Instead, we got mini-blogs from the users that discussed their upcoming Inkvite “projects.” They apologized for not being active on Inkvite due to classes and home life. They complained to the Inkvite staff for account issues that caused their stories or followers to disappear. They made “shout-outs” to other users for the great stories they were writing. Most often of all, they whined about getting low star ratings on their stories without any explanation. The actual stories usually end with YouTube-like postscripts asking for follows and five-star ratings and fan compliments like “STAY AWESOME, EVERYONE!”
What the hell happened?
It seems like internet communities are treated like giant forests of billboards, where the goal is to slap your face on as many surfaces as possible. I saw this in LittleBigPlanet, in which many of the level photos were dominated by a handful of players. I saw this when my cousin said she wanted to be a “YouTuber” when she grew up. It all smacks of a twisted value to me; the value of visibility for its own sake, of being well-liked over all else. Is being seen by millions really the most important thing in the world?
Is that what we really want for ourselves anymore?