The Collaborative Writing Process at SFU “Pathways: Creating digital fiction with Kate Pullinger”

Collaborative Writing Process at SFU Pathways Workshop

by Jessica Tremblay, July 3 2014



From June 9-13 2014, I attended Pathways: Creating digital fiction with Kate Pullinger, an immersive one-week workshop at Simon Fraser University.

The facilitators were John Maxwell (SFU Master of Publishing), Haig Armen (designer at Lift Studio, creator of CBC3 radio), and Kate Pullinger (author of Inanimate Alice).

There were eleven participants from various backgrounds: journalists, teachers, writers, editorial assistants, students.

The objective was for our group to write a story, then package it (with photos, animation, sound) and publish it on the web in a week.

Could eleven people agree on which story to write? How can eleven people work on the same story at the same time? How would it work? One of my objectives during the workshop was to learn about the collaborative writing process, so I took notes to document the process.


Day 1: Conceptpathways IMG_0749

We worked in small groups of 2-3 people, brainstorming ideas, writing them on post-its, then sharing the stories with the group.

A lot of the ideas were influenced by our location, room 3000 of SFU Downtown campus, which had a beautiful view of the waterfront and of massive cruise ships stationed at Canada Place.

We came up with five different stories:

  • Group 1: a waitress from Eastern Europe ends up working as an escort on cruise ship under a sadistic boss called The Fixer.
  • Group 2: a girl on a ghost bike witnesses a car explosion.
  • Group 3: A filmmaker/war photographer meets a local Vancouver girl who is documenting the city.
  • Group 4: as water rises slowly in Vancouver due to climate change, a couple in their thirties face a difficult decision regarding their future: should they have kids? Should they stay in Vancouver? She’s a travelling businesswoman, he’s a Vancouverite.
  • Group 5: four squares allow you to choose four different stories: hippy, old man, businessman, punk.


Day 2: Storypathways IMG_0758

We brainstorm in groups of 3-4 people with the objective of developing the common themes from yesterday’s stories (water/rain, migration/traveling, relationships) and hopefully come up with a new story we can develop as a group.

We come up with three stories:

  • Group 1: a girl steals a ghost bike.
  • Group 2: as water rises, a Vancouver man breaks up with his wife who is travelling abroad, his bike his stolen, he meets a girl and they leave on a canoe together.
  • Group 3: as water rises, the last Cartographer constantly revises maps of flooded Vancouver streets. As people seek higher grounds, the skytrain stations become shelter, tracks become streets for bicycles, and punks take refuge in million dollar condos.


Day 3: Storyboard

Each team storyboards their story, using word and drawings, on four index cards.


pathways IMG_1239IMG_0766



DAY 4: Writing / Production

We choose the title: The Last Cartographer. We lay out the storyboards on large sheets of paper. Our story now has six parts:

  1. The Cartographer refuses to leaves Vancouver, breaks up with his wife who left the city
  2. A girl steals a bike to photograph the city as water is rising
  3. She meets punks
  4. Cartographer draws maps of flooded Vancouver
  5. She takes photos
  6. The Cartographer and the girl escape the flooded city in a canoe

The fact that the story is broken down in six parts allows us to break in small teams of 2 people to work on one segment each.

 pathways IMG_1241


DAY 5: Rewrite / Production

We refine the dialogue during the production stage.



As far as collaborative writing go, our group was successful: by day 3, we already had a completed story with a common theme. Since our final story included bits and parts from everybody’s stories, all participants were happy and felt like they had contributed.

The experience was really fun and proved that collaborative writing is possible and a very stimulating way to write.


pathways IMG_0762

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Check out The Last Cartographer, the original digital fiction written and developed in one week during Pathways: Creating digital fiction with Kate Pullinger, by Kyle Carpenter, Alexandra Caufin, Jodie Childers, Jennifer Dellner, Bob Fletcher, Rochelle Gold, Nicola Harwood, Inba Kehoe, Shazia Ramji, Kaitlyn Till, & Jessica Tremblay.

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