This project was started by O. Sharp, propagated by Ojevind Lang, and organized primarily by O. Sharp and myself (Steuard Jensen). The single best way to get a feel for what a volunteered chapter should be like is to read the ones that went before; that more than anything else should reflect what the project really is. Having said that, there are some issues that deserve to be given at least a little bit of "official" discussion. (Note that the newsgroup thread in which these guidelines first took shape can be found in and around Message ID <mRUR4.150$v3.2629@uchinews>.)
Anyone associated with the Tolkien newsgroups is welcome to volunteer to write a chapter (I will give very mild precedence to longtime regulars who want to contribute). To volunteer, send me an email message at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your name added to the list. I encourage all volunteers to consider simply taking the next available chapter: letting "fate" (aka "me") decide what you'll write can be a lot of fun. Some priority will go to those who haven't had the chance to contribute yet.
On the other hand, feel free to request a specific chapter, and I'll do what I can. Such requests will be on pretty much a first-come, first served basis. I will not in general be willing to assign a chapter more than five chapters or so beyond the last currently assigned chapter, so don't start requesting "The Grey Havens" yet. :-) The main reason for this is that I don't want to leave too many gaps in the overall chapter list, and I don't want people to get too far ahead of the story when they start planning what to write. I reserve the right to do the occasional manipulation behind the scenes for the sake of fairness or for particularly noble causes, but I don't plan to do much of that sort of thing.
What to Write
I want to keep administrative interference in the actual writing to a minimum, so I'll try to keep this brief. However, a few guidelines do deserve to be mentioned here; I think everything will go a lot more smoothly and be more fun if everyone follows these suggestions.
- Respect the chapters that came before
yours. In particular, try to remain consistent with whatever
names and details have already been provided, even if they aren't
quite what you might have chosen yourself. We do want the finished
product to have some continuity, after all.
- If you really want some detail to be changed, and it wasn't at all important in the earlier chapter(s), you should send email to all of the authors of chapters that have touched on that detail however briefly and ask them if they would be willing to make the change you are hoping for. Don't be pushy, and don't ask anyone to sacrifice anything they wrote that they really care about, no matter how good your idea is: half of the fun is the challenge of building on what went before.
- Follow the books fairly closely. This doesn't mean that you can't make changes, but just that you shouldn't make BIG changes. Don't kill off Frodo in Book II, don't end your version of "The Great River" with the whole fellowship in Erebor, that sort of thing. The person writing the chapter after yours shouldn't have to completely change their plan for their chapter because of anything you write. Nudging the following authors in particular directions is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged, but forcing them to depart radically from the basic source material in their chapter of LotR isn't very nice.
- Keep the story fairly mild. That is, don't include graphic sex or violence in your chapter: we want this to be reasonably acceptable to a "family audience". As is already quite clear, sexual innuendo is both accepted and encouraged, but explicit sex isn't really appropriate. (This thread should never need a tilde [see my FAQ], but it would be ok if someone were to say "Hmm. Should that have a tilde? I guess not.") Similarly, don't go describing blood and gore in horrible detail, and don't make the story too focussed on violence. I would say that some "cartoon violence" is okay, even in fairly extreme forms if it's funny, but don't dwell on it. In short, respect the bounds of good taste... mostly. :-)
When to Write It
It's almost certainly best not to start writing before you've heard back from me about which chapter you're writing. I've also made it fairly clear that people should not post any chapter until the preceding chapter has been posted, as explained in more detail below. Beyond that, there are of course no rules: this is pretty much up to individual authors. Again, though, a few suggestions may help the project to run more smoothly.
First of all, try to write any chapter that you've signed up for within a few days after the previous one is written. This will help to keep things rolling at a decent pace. Some people will inevitably post their stories almost immediately after the previous chapter was posted, but don't feel overly rushed. We'd rather have a good, funny chapter after a few days than a rushed, boring chapter right away. If the chapter before yours is posted and it's going to be a day or two before you can get yours done, it would be nice to post a note to let everyone know that you're working on it. If it looks like it will be over a week until you can get it done, then it might be best to either arrange a trade with someone with a later chapter or to let me know; I'll reassign the chapter to someone else and give you a new one later on.
Second, and equally important, I'd recommend writing as little as possible before all the chapters leading up to yours have been posted. That way, you'll be able to make fullest use of any cool little details that came up in the previous chapters: that will not only be a great source of inspiration, but it will make the final text seem more cohesive as well. Of course, it can't hurt to sketch out your ideas for your chapter ahead of time, but it's almost certainly best not to fill in the details until all of the earlier material is available.
Once you have your chapter written, post it to the newsgroups with a reasonably detailed title (include book and chapter numbers, at least). Experience has now apparently shown that posting it as a new thread is probably clearest (as opposed to posting it as a followup to the previous chapter, for example). You may also want to email it directly to O. Sharp to be posted on his web page, though he's been doing fine pulling files from the group thus far.
Yes, we should address copyright in doing all this. We are committed to the principle that each author retains copyright for his or her own chapters. However, we certainly want to post the chapters on the Web for future generations to enjoy, so some permission must be granted to O. Sharp (at least) to allow him to do so. Also, I've already received a request from someone who wants to translate our efforts into Spanish for a Usenet forum in the es. hierarchy; I am inclined to give permission for that sort of thing as well. I'm not sure quite how to handle these issues. Are people comfortable with granting complete permission for others to copy these texts as long as they give each author attribution and provide their email address and a link back to O. Sharp's website? Or do we want to retain more control than that? Should we forbid republication for money? What a boring issue to have to worry about, eh? Still, let me know what you think.