Learning to Share the Toys
Learning to Share the Toys…or…Collaborative Storytelling
by Jaleigh Johnson
When I first started telling stories, I was a child, and they were only for me. They existed inside my mind, many times lacking crucial story elements like a beginning, or sometimes the middle, and often an end. They were like some of my toys—dolls missing their heads or games with the pieces lost. But that was all right. The components didn’t matter so much when there was only an audience of one. I just told the stories I needed to hear.
When I first started writing my stories down on paper, I was older, though still not quite an adult. That’s when things got a bit slippery. I wanted the stories out of my head, and I wanted them to have all the pieces, but I wasn’t ready to share them with anyone. Yet. So I wrote in sloppy, indecipherable handwriting in a notebook that I could shove under my bed. The stories were still only for me, but there was a danger, because there was a record of them now, an artifact for someone to find if I were ever struck by an errant meteor or eaten by wild dogs.
Or if my mother cleaned my room.
Sometimes I wonder about that long journey I took from being the girl who shoved those stories under the bed, to the one with books on bookstore shelves. I know I’m not alone. When I visit schools and speak to classrooms of student writers, some of the most-asked questions are about how to get stories down on paper, and then how to find the courage to share them.
How to get the stories written is a different discussion. But one of the ways I found the courage to share them was through collaborative storytelling in shared world settings.
The beauty of working in a collaborative setting like Stormtalons or the Forgotten Realms is you learn early on that you are joining a team of people who all have the same goal—to make the shared world as amazing as it possibly can be. To create a place where people will want to linger for more and more stories, building on the world, the characters, and the lore. When you step into this environment, not as the creator of the world, but as a contributor, you learn that you have a vital part to play, but one that has to work in harmony with all the other contributors, whether they are writers, artists, or editors. Not every idea is going to work, not every vision will match the creator’s vision. You have to share the toys. You have to be willing to bend, to let go of some ideas or let others build on them and show you things you might never have thought of. If you can do that, you can make magic together.
But sharing your work also means that it isn’t just for you anymore. That might be one of the hardest things for a young writer to come to terms with. The words are out of your head, out of that notebook. They belong to your readers now, and they may not always see your stories the same way you do. They may love them or hate them, or, worse, they may not care about them at all.
So, when I was a writer still trying to find my voice and come to terms with the idea of sharing my work with the world, it gave me courage and comfort to realize that I was working as part of a team on a shared setting like the Forgotten Realms. And later, when it came time for me to be the creator of my own worlds, I never lost sight of the idea of publishing as a collaborative process. I knew my publishing team was committed to helping me make my worlds as amazing as possible. We could make magic together.
Now, years later, we have Stormtalons, another wonderful opportunity for young writers and experienced veterans to come together and create something amazing, a setting that will keep pulling readers back in and giving writers the chance to share their work with the world. To create stories that belong to us all.
About the Author
Author of the Stormtalons novel Flesh and Artifice, Jaleigh Johnson is a fantasy novelist living and writing in the wilds of the Midwest. Her middle grade debut novel The Mark of the Dragonfly is a New York Times bestseller, was chosen for the ABA 2014 Spring Indie Next list, and was named one of Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2014. Her other books in the Solace series from Delacorte Press include The Secrets of Solace and the forthcoming The Quest to the Uncharted Lands. She has also written several novels and short stories for the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms fiction line published by Wizards of the Coast. Johnson is an avid gamer and lifelong geek, and in her spare time she also enjoys traveling, reading, baking, and going to movies with her husband. Visit her online at www.jaleighjohnson.com or follow her on Twitter @JaleighJohnson.