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Here's a rookie mistake for a would-be Internet storyteller:
Start a roleplaying, story-oriented mud, but make it all about you. Only tell the stories you want to tell, the way you want to tell them, and, no matter what, don't let your participants share in the effort of fleshing out the world you've created.
You are all individuals!
The critical difference between normal storytelling and Internet storytelling like we do at OtherSpace is one that should be shared by every story-focused mud: Interactivity.
It is often a fatal flaw when the chief storyteller embarks on a project with tunnel vision, determined to make people fit cleanly into the framework he or she has created, with no intention of allowing his or her participants to help shape the world or alter the course of events.
But, the fact, is - you're asking them to share the work of bringing the universe to life. Let them share the fun of fleshing out the universe. This does two things quite effectively: First, it takes some of the workload off of you and your staff, and second, it puts the participants' fingerprints on the universe and gives them a sense of ownership and impact.
Most participants in story-focused mud environments are creative individuals, and often they are enthusiastic about the themes they inhabit. Particularly in original-theme environments, it is vital that you tap into their creative energy and get their help making your world more detailed and layered.
Now, I can be a control freak. I had my moments early on with OtherSpace where I resisted letting anyone besides me shape the universe. After all, this was MY baby, right? Well, what I came to realize was: The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, the overall theme and concepts and worlds are mine. The big picture story outline - that's mine too.
But I only have so many hours in a day, and so many hands, and so many synapses firing in my brain. Meanwhile, there are all these wonderful, enthusiastic participants sharing in the creative experience, immersed in their characters, always thinking about what their cultures must be like, what strange life forms might be found on their worlds, notable holidays, famous geological features - the sorts of details that add real depth to a fictional culture.
So, why not let the people who spend their days as a Timonae or Ungstiri come up with ideas for their worlds? Let them pitch the ideas, and incorporate the ones you like. We've actually begun a very active project at OtherSpace of letting players propose ideas as in-kind contributions to the MUSH. In our discussion forums, players post concepts for flora, fauna, and cultural data to enrich the worlds they call home. It's a wonderful give and take process. Not every idea is accepted, but many are. And, as one world develops, players on other worlds take note and come up with ideas for *their* culture. It spreads like wildfire.
This is probably one of the best ways for an original-theme environment to overcome the obstacle of not having voluminous amounts of canonical background in the form of TV shows, movies or books. But it requires an investment of trust by the chief storyteller in the people that have been invited to share the experience.
Whether you have an original or established theme, you must find a way to let your participants put their fingerprints all over the world you've provided for them. It is part and parcel of what you can offer in a text-based environment that they aren't likely to get in a 3D hack and slash dungeon like Everquest any time soon.
Let them make news. When they do something, good or bad, if it happens in a public area or involves public figures, put stories in an online newspaper.
Put their names in print on your website.
Publish logs featuring their characters.
One of the most important lessons for an Internet storyteller to learn is that this isn't all just about you and the world you've created. It's about the people who bring it to life.
Let them shine.
May 2001 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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