A New Form
Write for Free?
Community of Writers
Site for Research
Enter psychiatrist Charles Balis' world, who's primarily treating employees of
a large San Francisco computer company. There's almost three years' worth of
well-organized patient transcripts, Doctor's notes, correspondence, and other
materials ensnaring readers in the Doctor's fictional world. Written by its audience,
the Company Therapist is both compelling entertainment and an educational venue to
help writers improve their craft. We've solved a vexing problem in collaborative
fiction by allowing each writer's voice to represent individual characters. Each
author's work is distinct and yet moves the entire narrative forward. This
interactivity makes The Company Therapist unique among web-based dramas.
The Company Therapist in General
The Company Therapist is a young psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Balis who, after
completing his residency at Columbia University, moves to the Bay Area and
starts a solo practice. Nervous about starting out alone, he makes a deal
with an HMO, selling 60% of his time to provide the mental health needs for
a large computer company, Silicon Impressions Inc. SII's employees are an
odd bunch indeed and need the Doctor's help. Through transcripts of therapy
sessions, patient diaries and logs, doodles, personnel records, telephone
conversations, and other written and graphical materials, the Company Therapist
is designed to allow a deep exploration of its characters and their stories.
There's a lot of content here to be explored. We hope you find it intriguing,
amusing, and entertaining.
Two Goals: The Company Therapist is a World Wide Web
site that encompasses two goals. The first is to be a hyperdrama
with well developed, interesting characters and an entertaining
story line. The second goal is to create a site that uses the Web as an
effective educational tool for advancement of adult literacy. By creating
written materials for a fictional character on an active, professional web
site, writers can improve their skills while engaging in an authentic activity.
The Company Therapist Project is interested in integrating the works of
many writers into a cohesive whole and in forming a diverse community of
authors with different ages, life experiences, and ethnic backgrounds.
The Company Therapist was not about making money. There is no business plan
underlying this project. This is a labor of love. There are no advertisements.
No money changed hands.
A New Form: Collaborative hyperdrama on the Internet
is a new literary form. Unlike any traditional literary form, the hyperdrama
invites readers to sample the material in a nonlinear fashion, skipping
from item to item as their fancy dictates. Many nonlinear materials suffer
because significant plot points are missed or are difficult to unearth.
The Company Therapist is creating a fictional world with many characters,
events, and storylines coexisting and evolving to give an illusion of reality
to its readers. We are trying to create a narrative landscape which can be travelled
through many paths according to the interests of the reader. Although an individual reader
may only traverse a small part of this landscape, they will sense its great
The Company Therapist organizes its materials in two ways. A reader can
follow the story of a particular character and all the information relating
to that character is hyper-linked together for easy access. The Company
Therapist also imposes a time order on all materials, so the reader can
easily trace backwards or forwards from a particular event to uncover the
story. The illusion created for the reader is that of fullness and richness
of a real world which is rarely achieved via other literary formats due to
the constraint of linearity.
Because of the unique structure of this drama, it is well-suited
for collaborative writing. In many collaborative ventures, the goal is to attempt
to homogonize the voices of different writers so that the end product gives the illusion
of having been written by one author. The reality is that often the result is choppy
and unsatisfying, revealing a Frankenstein patchwork of different
writers. The producers of the Company Therapist feel that this approach squanders the
resources that many authors can bring to a project, particularly their diversity of voices.
In The Company Therapist, the varying styles of different writers
is a bonus rather than a detriment. Each writer creates and evolves his
or her own character. Each character in this story has a unique way of
expressing him or herself and has a unique and individualized voice.
Instead of trying to lose the voice of the individual authors in service
to the whole collaborative work, The Company Therapist uses those individual
voices to create unforgettably real characters.
Write for Free? This site is a labor of love. People donated their time,
energy and commitment to create something unique. The Company Therapist is
intended to both be an entertainment for the reader and it provided a site where writers could
collaborate on a project and have their work published as a unity, but still
keep their unique voice and write on subjects which are of personal interest.
The Company Therapist's format embraced diversity without losing itself.
We hope there was artistic and personal satisfaction, but the writers were
not working for monetary compensation. However, many writers found it valuable
to practice their craft and to be published in this manner. One writer used the opportunity
to develop characters for a novel, while
another fine-tuned their writing skills through practice. A third writer tried to
call attention to a debiliating physical condition and the plight of its sufferors, while a fourth
writer wanted their work to be discovered by an employer. All the writers enjoyed having their
character come to life on the web.
Educational Principles and Considerations
Conceived to be one of the first World Wide Web educational collaborative
fiction writing projects, this site was designed to give an opportunity for
writers with varying degrees of expertise to learn from each other through
an authentic process of creative writing for a real audience.
Community of Writers: The Company Therapist Project
served as a focal point for a community of writers. This community
of writers had members with different levels of expertise. It consisted
of a small group of permanent writers and editors responsible for several
major characters in this saga. This staff also provided the overall direction
for story development and were responsible for creating
a supportive environment where less experienced writers could join the team
and create their own characters and subplots. Through the network of social
support, modeling, and incidental instruction, this site was designed to
increase the overall competency levels of all its writers.
Collaborative Hyperdrama: Because of the unique literary
structure of this drama, it is well-suited for collaborative writing. In
many collaborative ventures, the end product is choppy and unsatisfying,
revealing a Frankenstein patchwork of different writers. In this project,
however, the varying styles of different writers is a bonus rather than
a detriment. Each writer created and evolved his or her character. Each
character in this story has a unique way of expressing him or herself and
has an individualized voice revealed through transcripts of conversations
and through the personal writings of that character. With many characters
expressed through different writers, the storylines of The Company Therapist
can be rich, complex, and intriguing.
Individualization: In the
collaborative hyperdrama literary format, the work load of each writer can
be specifically fitted to his or her abilities, time commitment, and interests.
Thus a novice writer could choose to write only one character and one therapy
session (about 5 pages of dialogue) every couple of weeks. A more experienced
writer could take on a larger load with several characters, multiple therapy
sessions, multiple personal diaries and logs, or all of the above. Each
writer was free to select topics that were the most personally relevant and
inspiring. The story lines ranged from a discussion of current events, to
traditional narrative stories, to detailed explorations of basic human emotions.
Conceptual Changes: The
abilities to review and evaluate one's own work and observe one's writing
from multiple perspectives are metacognitive tools. These tools help develop
self-awareness and self-assessment in writers. The Company Therapist encouraged
the development of writing skills by providing a reason for a writer to
write. The Company Therapist facilitated conceptual changes in individual
writers by allowing them to see the development and the reasons for the
improvement of their work over time. While creating a character and a storyline,
an individual author was not abandoned. Writers were encouraged to discuss
their ideas with each other and build upon previously explored plot points.
The Company Therapist site is equipped with a bulletin board which
allowed writers and readers to communicate in a public forum. Additionally, most authors
also were accessible via e-mail from the author's page, which allowed private collaboration.
Each writer was able to interact with his or her editor, chosen from the permanent
group of writers for this project. All published work was carefully edited and discussed
with its author. Specially written redlining software was used to create HTML documents which
were e-mailed back to the author. These documents, viewable crossplatform in a browser,
highlighted all editorial changes. The numerous support systems of this site were designed to
create a fertile environment in which authors could explore their talents
and publish their work.
Site for Research: The Company Therapist hyperdrama
is a unique opportunity for both writers and researchers to study writing
development over time. Since the form of the writing stays fixed, improvements
in the writing style of an individual author can be more easily observed
and measured. Researchers can trace the evolution of style and vocabulary
of a particular writer or a group as a whole.
Current Research: There
are numerous research groups throughout the world that are investigating
the origins of writing expertise and how to foster expertise through innovative
curriculums and teaching methods.
Glenda Hull, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School
of Education, thinks of writing as a problem-solving process which includes
planning, organizing, structuring, and revising as its basic principles
and strategies. She also identifies writing as a social activity invented
by people for the purpose of communicating ideas and thoughts. As such,
writing and composing can only be an authentic activity for an author if
the writing satisfies those functions.
Ann Brown, a professor at Harvard University, writes:
"[P]articipation in practice is the main activity through which learning
The Company Therapist embraces these ideas by providing an authentic purpose
and a community of practice.
We see The Company Therapist site as a new form of entertainment and
a new type of learning environment. With the common goal of providing entertainment
for their audience, The Company Therapist authors form a collaborative community
of writers. The hyperdrama's unique format supports the multiple voices
and diverse levels of expertise of the different authors through the individualization
of the writing assignments. The authors are encouraged to keep track of
their work and discuss it with their editors and other writers. This site
also provides a means of reflection for each author about their achievements
and work over a period of time. As such, The Company Therapist is a project
that hopes to facilitate conceptual changes in writing. An author that
participated in The Company Therapist hyperdrama not only sharpened their
writing and literary expertise in the course of their tenure, but also are
able to refer any future publishers to this site for a sample of their
Hull, G. (1989). Research on writing: Building a cognitive and social
understanding of composing. In L. Resnick & L. Klopfer (Eds.), Toward
the Thinking Curriculum: Current Cognitive Research , pages 104-128. ASCD
Brown, A., Ash, D., Rutherford, M., Nakagawa, K., Gordon, A., & Campione,
J. (in press). Distributed Expertise in the Classroom. To appear in G.
Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, A., & Palinscar, A. (1989). Guided cooperative learning and
individual knowledge acquisition. In L. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, Learning,
and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.