Some time at the back-end of 2012, I started to write a story.
It was a simple idea: a man turns 21 years old and finds out about the Dad he never met. He then finds out his Dad has recently died. It’s all very Pearl Jam.
So far, so good.
I then decided that I would tell this story using 100 balloons. I don’t know why. I think it’s because balloons sounded like a cool thing to put around London. Also, I’d bought a domain and some hosting.
And in my usual way, I got on Twitter and tweeted about it. I did this because, once it’s out there and public, if I turn back I’ll have failed without trying. It spurs me on to make things.
I then set about putting together a plan of action. What plot would I create, who were the characters and what relationships did they have that might have a bearing on the plot, and what order the stories would be in. Usual storytelling stuff.
Then I started to write the stories. Not easy, but not difficult. Well, 25, or even 50 stories would be fine. But finding 100 compelling stories and associated artefacts that were related to the plot, not to mention stick inside balloons, and do this across a small number of characters while keeping things interesting, wasn’t as easy. And then deciding that I’d have a dual narrative with my main character writing on a blog and Twitter, relating his feelings back to the 100 stories. Slowly it got more and more complex to plan.
Then I went one step further. I decided that it would be a really good idea if I didn’t control all the characters. Yes. I actually thought that! And then I handed one or two of these characters over to other people. And I’ll be handing more over later on. Collaborative fiction made real.
It’s scary. Because although the plot and the story are as simple as ever – and the end point is the same – how I reach this end point could take a twist or turn that I hadn’t considered. I’m at the mercy of these other people. And my main character, the one who holds it all together, will need to react accordingly, while ensuring that everything moves forward. I’m hoping they won’t blog or write much. I’m hoping that they will.
I’d like to point out that I also have a job to do and a family to interact with.
So, I’ve learned that true multitasking isn’t easy, requires a lot of thought and as much pre-planning as possible. I’ve learned that no matter how simple the story there are many complexities that need to be considered. And I’ve learned that 100 balloons is a lot.
Six months or so from now, when it’s all over and the final balloon is released, I’ll have learned a heck of a lot more. I will be sure to write that up, too.
For now, you can follow the threads and stories via the One Hundred Balloons website, as well as the main character, Stephen Cauldwell, as he tweets his way through the narrative and blogs about what he’s feeling and his reactions to some of the news he receives. You can even ask him things.
And if you’re lucky enough to find a balloon, you’ll also find a piece of the story, like a note, or a shopping list, or a letter. Or something else.