The Company Therapist in General

The Premise
Two Goals
A New Form
Write for Free?

Educational Principles and Considerations

Community of Writers
Collaborative Hyperdrama
Conceptual Changes
Site for Research
Current Research



Back to Table of Contents The Company Therapist in General

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.

Back to Table of Contents The Premise: 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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 expanse.

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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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.

Back to Table of Contents 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 occurs."

The Company Therapist embraces these ideas by providing an authentic purpose and a community of practice.

Back to Table of Contents Conclusion

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 work.

Back to Table of Contents Bibliography:

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 1989 Yearbook.

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.


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