Co-operative Fiction & Wondercosms

Wondercosms Icon

This post is a deep-dive into the background of Wondercosms: what the experiment is, where it comes from, and how I envision it working on Wonderbox.

First, an introduction to the terms:

Co-operative Fiction: stories and storyworlds that are open to all contributors to co-operate in building upon, re-envisioning, transforming, and filling in the gaps. These works can exist in and incorporate any medium. Also known as transformative storytelling.

Wondercosms: the overall category, specific to Wonderbox Digital, for co-operative fiction. Word origin: “Wonder” (Wonderbox) + “cosms” (worlds)

Arcosm: the source text or original work providing the foundation for further co-operative texts based upon it. Word origin: “arch” (ruler, but also a key element supporting a larger structure) + “cosm” (world)

Cosmitect: writer/creator/designer of co-operative fiction. Word origin: “cosm” (world) + “tekt” (builder/carpenter)

Arcosmitect: a cosmitect who specifically creates an Arcosm. Word origin: “arch” (ruler) + “cosm” (world) + “tekt” (builder)

Spiral: any individual work that builds upon, expands, re-envisions, fills in the gaps, and/or otherwise transforms an Arcosm. Word origin: less an etymological origin, and more of a visual – spiralling outward, springboarding, expanding, providing structure for more spirals in a fractal-like manner.

spirals in a fractal pattern

How does it work?

Wonderbox is providing a few original arcosms, and of course any text in the public domain is open (Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Time Machine – anything you can find on Project Gutenberg). If you publish a work and you want it to be open to co-operative storytelling (and thus publications of spirals based on your work), you mark it as such using the Wondercosms category; each new arcosms will receive its own subcategory, and all related spirals will be sorted into that category for ease of organisation. You can use further categories and tags to refine both arcosm and spirals.

All arcosms and spirals fall under Wonderbox’s flat 10% commission fee. In addition, however, spirals will also carry an additional 10% commission fee:

Each spiral published will earn a 10% royalty for its arcosmitect.

That means the cosmitect of the spiral earns an 80% royalty, with 10% going to the arcosmitect who created the arcosm on which it is based, and 10% going to Wonderbox. If the spiral is based on more than one arcosm, the 10% arcosmitect royalty will be divided equally between each arcosm.

For spirals based on Wonderbox original arcosms, the 10% arcosm royalty will go to Wonderbox. For those based on public domain works, the 10% arcosm royalty will revert to the spiral cosmitect, bringing their total royalties to 90%.

We will also be exploring alternative funding and buying/selling models, including freemium and subscription-based structures.

What about copyright?

As with all work on Wonderbox, copyright remains with the author of any one individual work. An arcosmitect can remove their work at any time; they may not, however, remove spirals published based on that arcosm. All work can be openly published elsewhere. The internet is breaking traditional publishing and copyright strangleholds; Wonderbox sees no reason to oppose this. Indeed, we encourage cosmitects to develop their work on sites like AO3 until you feel it is ready for fee-based publishing.

That’s the plan as we launch. As noted, this is all a grand experiment. These specifics may change; y’all may hate the terminology and come up with your own. The commissioning distribution may ultimately prove to be unfair. There may be considerations I have not considered that we have to adapt to. I’m hopeful that, as a community, we can explore the creation, publication, and distribution of co-operative fiction together. Toward that end, join Wonderbox’s Discord server for discussion, support, feedback, and more.

Where did all this come from?

A while back I wrote a book, and in my favourite chapter in that book I made a case for fan fiction as the future of storytelling:

fanfic authors are ushering in a new era of prose fiction: one that is open-ended, palimpsestual, intra- and intertextual, inviting to new contributions, shaped around community and discourse, with room for multiplicative forms of creativity, play, and experimentation (p. 82).

With my academic hat on, I leaned toward calling it “archontic fiction” (see Derecho 2006): the source text – whether it’s Star Trek or Harry Potter or Greek mythology – provides a foundation for others to build new stories upon, stretching taller, wider, deeper, with more nooks and crannies and rooms and wallpapers than any one author can achieve alone. Far from the notion of fan fiction as “derivative” (seeing the original and trying to copy it over and over and over like a badly maintained copier), this type of work builds a new, highly adaptive structure. The “original” is just the start; after that, every other contributor cooperates with one another to create an ever-expanding story and storyworld.

Thus, with my Wonderbox hat on, I’m calling this “co-operative fiction”, for a couple of reasons. For one, “archontic” is pretty stuffy (though I think it has more elegance than “co-operative”). For another, I wanted to introduce a new term, something to help this pull away from the baseless yet prolific negative judgments about fanfic.

Do I think all fanfic should be commercially published? Nope. People write fanfic for lots of different reasons: for fun, for community, for practice, for showing how much they love a particular source text. For that matter, all narrative creators do the same thing, and not everything we create is destined for commercial platforms. We write journals and blogs and poetry and essays and we create games and artwork and music just to do them. We don’t sell everything we create, and that’s cool.

But for those who do want to be able to create in this amazing, co-operative, constructive manner, and earn from their work the same as any other artist, I think they should be able to. Thus… Wondercosms.

Derecho, A. 2006. Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction. In: K. Hellekson and K. Busse, eds., Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., pp. 61–79.

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