Introduction to Run Ons
The Brotherhood offers different writing competitions. You may have already been asked to participate in cooperative writings referred to as "run-ons" (sometimes spelled runon or run on) already. Such writings, where several people write different parts of a story, are usually fun and not too time consuming. However, they can also end in utter frustration and chaos, often leaving no real story behind but remnants of erratic writings sometimes not even centered around a common topic.
In most cases, this is due to the participants of the run-on ignoring what has been written before and only bothering about including their own characters and their own ideas. If such an incoherent writing is created, it is often referred to as "run away." You can probably imagine how hard it is for the judge to read such a thing, and it is obvious that it will not score well in any competition.
How should a runon work?
If you are about to write in a run-on, the first thing you have to do is to check where you are in the timeline and progress of the story. There is a difference in posting at the beginning, in the middle or towards the end of a run-on. Usually, if you are among the first 5 people to post, you can consider yourself posting at the beginning, unless there is a fixed number of posts and this number is below 15. Another indication is post length. Some people think a few sentences make a run-on post, while others write long paragraphs, going far ahead in the story.
A good post in a run-on needs to give good starting/continuing points for other people to write. So you should not just cut off in the middle of an action scene, as this might leave others confused and unsure as to what to write about now. Also, if you intend to continue a certain sequence yourself, you need to say so. The others won't be able to know not to continue that part if you don't!
Post length should be a minimum of 2 paragraphs with at least 150 words each. A one-sentence post hurts the story more than it helps, and it might cost your party the win even if you get a participation point for it. Many judges do not even count one sentence posts anymore. There usually isn't anything like a run-on post that is too long. However, anything going beyond 1 1/2 pages Arial size 12 needs to be carefully reviewed. Is there really content in it, or is it mostly babble that does not help the story along? While character development is very welcome in a run-on, it should never be done at the expense of the plot.
If you are posting any other post but the first one, you need to be very careful about consistency and character descriptions. Also, as mentioned before, it does no good to keep introducing characters throughout the story, even if it is your own. As a rule of thumb, after the first 5 - 10 posts, depending on length and already existent plot development, no new characters should be included unless there is a very good reason. And by "very good," it isn't meant that your character overslept, or was drunk, or he was held up in a space traffic jam or something similar. It must make sense to the story and be of help to the plot.
If you did not get to post early and no one else has included your character, you might feel a bit limited, seeing how you are not supposed to write about who you know best. It is always harder to post about someone else and stay in character. When you are in doubts about how another member's persona might behave, ask. Better to bother them now than later finding out it did not fit. Also, by reading the story up to now very carefully, you will most likely pick up ideas, common reactions (such as a returning phrase someone uses) and likely reactions. Something that is generally a no-no is introducing character traits or physical attributes (emotional reactions, phobias, silly jokes, allergies, hair color, make them lose an arm etc) to someone else's persona unless you've been given direct permission. Ask yourself "What if someone would do that with my character?" Even if you aren't an RPG person, you would most likely not like it if someone messes up the way your character usually acts, or worse, changes his or her physical appearance.
Now there is the subject of plotlines. For some reason, it is often thought cool to introduce new plot elements to the run-ons, sometimes complete side stories that are or are not (and more often the latter) connected to the main topic. For example, the run-on is supposed to be about going to a certain planet and bring home an injured battleteam member. What happens is that the story has the rescue party visit several other planets, two people develop a romantic relationship, a pirate attack happens, and an old friend of someone showing up before they even get to the designated planet. This development continues throughout the run-on. It totally distracts from the main goal - telling about the rescue operation. What is worse, most of such run away side plots don't even have closure. Many open ends make the whole piece look unfinished, even if you write "The End" under it.
As with characters, very often every writer in a run-on wants to add his own ideas and plotlines, more often than not paying no attention to what other people are trying to achieve. Thus, the story will come out like a collection of stories randomly thrown together. This is not a pleasant thing to read and won't get any good placing. If you want to do your own thing, don't write in run-ons. There are lots of other competitions to do for a single writer activity. Run-ons are called cooperative writings for a reason.
As with character consistency, consistency with the plot is important. It is, in fact, the most important thing for your run-on. If you write about Jedi XX getting killed in the 4th post and he is suddenly alive again in post #10, then not many readers will take the story serious anymore. When QUA YY is on board of your ship in post #5 and you write about him being with you on a planet in #6 it is as bad. Keep track of who is in the story and where they are in the story. This is crucial, and we can't stress it often enough. Once messed up, such a run-on is very hard to rescue, because people will get very confused and write multiple parts not matching others. And for some run-ons, rewriting is not even permitted.
Another issue that was already mentioned is the failure to bring closure to the overall plot. Taking the aforementioned battleteam run-on which was supposed to be about rescuing a member, one of the party was abducted by the pirates that attacked them, but this was never followed up. The member was just gone. It leaves a big question mark with the readers. It is confusing and gives the impression of some pages missing.
Very often, someone starts writing a part of the story, like going on a search, and then does not follow up himself. This would mean that, for the reader, the persona in question is still about searching or is suddenly back with the party without any explanation. If you notice someone isn't following up on his own ideas anymore, you will need to jump in. This is especially important if you are the one doing the last post in the story, but it is usually helpful do do it earlier. If it is only done in the last post, it will either have to be a long post or it will come over rushed.
Instead of adding new ideas on your own all the time, you will have to follow up on other's people's postings in any case, if you want to have a good story. Such cooperation makes a run-on look like one, solid story instead of a collection of fragments. In really good cooperative stories, you will not be able to tell where one writer has stopped and the other one has started. If you want examples of it, there are a few among the Antei Combat Center battles (yes, ACC battles are, essentially, run-ons as well). While it is easier to achieve such a solidity with only two writers, we have occasionally seen it done in some larger run-ons. Of course, to get there, you will need to know your fellow writer's characters and styles well, so it is not something judges usually expect to happen.
It is ok to reference past events from other writings in a run-on, but it would be good if you add a note explaining where the reference comes from. It helps both the judges and your fellow writers. There should not, however, exist too many of such references unless the run-on is a direct follow up of an earlier story. Otherwise readers will lose the thread.
If you have any questions or concerns, please voice them here and I will do my best to answer!