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Online And In The Open: Transparent Novel Writing


Writing's often depicted as a private act - scribbling, crossing out, then crumpling two sheets into a fireplace; trial, error and angst - all of which is best kept private. Silvia Hartmann is now writing on a kind of electronic stage - in an open document, a Google doc - so that readers can see her story appear line by line, edit by edit. Silvia Hartmann joins us from the south coast of England. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: So what are you trying to do here, write a novel?

HARTMANN: Yep. I'm writing a novel. That's correct, yes. Live, on air, with 50 people watching at a time.

SIMON: How does that affect the writing process, do you think?

HARTMANN: Because I know that people are actually following along with the story as I'm writing it, I can't just stop in the middle - to now have breakfast, or something. I have to bring the chapter to a conclusion, and leave it on a cliffhanger so they'll come back to read the next installment, the next day.

SIMON: I gather the novel begins - at least, as we speak now - quote, "It was not every day that Mrs. Delaney found a naked man in the driveway."


HARTMANN: Yes, that's right. I don't see that I'm going to change that. I think that's going to be one of the great openers ever.


SIMON: I've got to ask - and this is as a professional author; I'm just guessing this must run through your mind - if people are able to read this in real time, as you write it online, what possible interest would they have in buying the book?

HARTMANN: Oh, a lot of people say that, yes. I mean, doesn't matter if they buy it or not. I do think this project is enormous fun. I mean, it's just so extremely interesting to see how having those people there - and seeing their comments out of the corner of my eye, as I'm writing sort of a moving love scene of some kind.

SIMON: My gosh. What's it like to write a love scene with what amounts to online audience participation?

HARTMANN: It's quite tricky. You really have to keep your concentration on what's happening in front of you. We actually had a sex survey, and asked people how much sex they wanted in this book - none at all; just oblique references behind closed doors; full erotic, steamy sex scenes; and the final option was, I don't care, just tell the story.

SIMON: And, and?

HARTMANN: Ninety-five percent either voted for sex scenes, full-on sex scenes, or just tell the story. Only 5 percent wanted no sex. So I'm now all happy. And off I go, writing sex scenes.

SIMON: Ms. Hartmann, do you know where this novel is going? Do you know how it's ending?

HARTMANN: No. I have no idea. I have a habitat, with people in it that are interacting. One of them isn't a people - he's a dragon lord. And I have no idea where it's going to do. That's the beauty of writing this way, isn't it?

SIMON: You can watch Silvia Hartmann's novel "The Dragon Lord" take shape online. There's a link on our website. Silvia Hartmann, thank you and good luck.

HARTMANN: Thank you so much for talking with me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.