A Round Robin is a story written collaboratively by a group of authors, each of whom takes a turn writing a chapter or section; the chapters are produced in chronological order, or at least in the order in which they are intended to be read. There is no agreed-upon outline for the overall plot, and the authors are all free to take the story in whatever direction they wish when it is their turn to write a section, without consulting the others, leaving those who follow to deal with the consequences of what they have written. By the same token, each must accept what previous contributors have written.
A classic Round Robin has each person writing multiple parts, repeating the same order of authors each round. Variations include each author writing a single part or the authors writing multiple parts without a pattern to the repetition, perhaps not even producing the same number of parts. Another simple variation is to have the same person write both the first and last parts.
A variant on the Round Robin format restricts the author's knowledge of what has come before. Typically in this variant, each new writer will be given only the immediately preceding chapter, and must extrapolate how things got there. Needless to say, this is done only as an intentional gambit to produce amusingly incoherent results; more so the shorter each chapter is. This variant reaches its ultimate expression in comic strips where each participant is given only a single panel. This variant is often called "exquisite corpse", after a famous phrase created by this method.
A Round Robin presents a number of obvious storytelling dangers, including Flanderization, Character Derailment, Loads and Loads of Characters, Kudzu Plot, Mood Whiplash, Plot Holes, Retcon, Spotlight-Stealing Squad, and worst of all Dead Fic if someone fails to go through their turn. In general, the most major danger of a Round Robin is that each author tends to be more eager to introduce and concentrate on his own characters and subplots, rather than on the characters introduced previously.
A less common problem is when the Round Robin refuses to get capped off with an actual ending, because it's hard to decide and agree when should the authors stop piling on new plot points and péripéties and just aim to wrap up what has been already written.
A modern day Round Robin only rarely results in a publishable work. It is more commonly produced for the authors' own amusement. It has also been used in Fan Fic.
The Round Robin may be one of The Oldest Ones in the Book, as plots involving a group of people sitting down around a fire (or whatever) to tell a story testify. The same concept also exists in the art world, where various artists will take turns adding to a drawing; is called an "Exquisite Corpse"
For a similar concept applied to Video Games, see Succession Game. The game show Supermarket Sweep had a Round Robin game frequently played, where the two members of a team would swap answering anagrams of product names and such. For those of you looking for competitive round robins seen in sports, Tournament Arc may be the page to go to.
- Once Upon a Time is a game in which the players tell a fairy tale, round-robin style, using playing cards labeled with appropriate concepts such as "witch", "brave", "palace", or "something is revealed" as inspiration. Each player is trying to work all his or her own cards into the story AND bring the story to a different ending. To make it even more interesting, players can interrupt each other - if Alice has the "Prince" card, and Bob mentions the son of the King, Alice can discard the "Prince" card, interrupt Bob, and take over the telling of the story.
- Fiasco has a similar principle: each player gets four turns, on which they can either set up or resolve a scene with their own character in the spotlight. If they set up their scene, other players vote on whether it ends well for their character or not, and they must incorporate it into the story; if the player resolves the scene, they get to choose the outcome, but other players set it up for them.
- Sudz is a card game played much like "Crazy Eights", but after the game ends, the played cards can be read as a parody of an episode of a soap opera.
- DC Challenge is a rare comic book example where each issue had a different author except the final one, which is a collaboration between several authors. Each part ended with at least one cliffhanger and usually several, which the next writer had to figure out how to resolve. One additional rule is that writers who were already writing for certain characters' books were not allowed to use those characters here, and so had to get their characters out of their chapter as soon as possible.
- Kamandi Challenge was a spiritual successor to the above in honor of Jack Kirby, with each chapter featuring Kamandi.
- Project Pieces is an attempt to create a publishable comic where each panel is drawn by someone else. Within just a few pages it degenerated into a nonsensical stream-of-consciousness.
- The She-Hulk story The Time of Her Life was a very interesting artistic Round Robin. Each artist drew a two pages from the comic in sequence. it was an excellent example of how things can vary depending on the artist. She-Hulk varied from huge 80s perm to normal 00s hair, from bodybuilder to slender in physique, from normal to vast in bust... Etc etc. If memory serves, there was only one writer, however.
- Done accidentally to the tune of Epic Fail in Countdown to Final Crisis, because the writers and editors apparently couldn't be bothered to look at the preceding issues to keep track of the continuity. The art reflects this as well, not just in the Art Shift as the thing was handed from one creative team to the next, but in blatant continuity errors such as the incident where the Pied Piper and Trickster fell out of a futuristic plane at sunset at the end of one issue, only for the beginning of the next issue to depict them falling out of a regular jet in the clear blue afternoon.
- Spider-Man examples follow:
- Brand New Day was this with writers changing for each story or even during the same story and one issue even has three writers, one establishing main event and then them all dealing with an aftermath from different standpoints.
- The mini-series Full Circle is another round robin comic, with seven writers and eight artists telling a story about Spider-Man travelling the world on a mission from S.H.I.E.L.D..
- The Anime Addventure (sic) is an entire site devoted to Round Robin-style writing, using a branching tree structure similar to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book; anyone can join in on any plotline by simply picking an option from the end of the most recent episode and writing an installment about it.
- CAPOW Anime Prose Original Writing; see the link for more details.
- The Global Ranma Insanity Thread, a combination round robin and text-based roleplay (with, effectively, everybody acting as the Gamemaster) that started on the rec.arts.anime.misc newsgroup and has since migrated to a mailing list.
- Improfanfic, which involves signups and deadlines to help keep the story moving along at a reasonable pace; unfortunately, this doesn't always work and many stories have since just ground to a halt after the signups withered away.
- The Renegades is a Kingdom Hearts fic that has three people writing its chapters in a circular fashion, as well as special excerpts written by all of the authors or a one-off chapter written out of turn, which all eventually connect to the main storyline.
- Thwomp goes to the Chocolate Factory, shared between three Brits, is a particularly hilarious example. It begins with a Thwomp attempting suicide due to boredom at his job as manager of the titular factory, and just gets weirder from there.
- The TV movies of Script Fic Calvin and Hobbes: The Series are co-written by Swing 123 and garfieldodie.
- The Doctor Who fanfic community has had a number of Round Robins spawned from the This Time Round Meta Fic setting, including several Pro-Fun Hoedowns (in which Author Avatars and DW characters get together for a party, only for Complications To Occur) and Dark Carnival (in which a Circus of Fear arrives in Nameless). Sadly, both Dark Carnival and the most recent Hoedown are currently Dead Fics.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic scene, at least two groups decided—completely independently—to make exquisite corpse fics.
- The properly named Round Robin Parody is basically a Crossover comedy fanfic featuring Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and oddly enough, Albedo: Erma Felna EDF, a furry comic. It was written in a Star Trek group in Usenet before the World Wide Web era at the beginning of the 90s, and very few copies of that fic exist in the net, mostly the final episode. Basically, the whole story is about the crew of the both generations trying to kill each other, while the cast of Albedo joins the fray, ending with the ILR (the common enemy force from Albedo) invading Atlantic City with the help of Picard. Hilarity Ensues.
- Kidfic is a Team Fortress 2 Slice of Life fanfic co-written by two people, Measured and Voltalia.
- Sick in Bed involves Phineas and Isabella falling in love while bedridden on a shared bed. Three authors wrote this fic.
- The Great Starship Battle was written by several people taking turns writing each section.
- Sorcery & Cecelia combines the Round Robin with the epistolary novel.
- Parodied relentlessly by Mark Twain in Roughing It with a chapter about a literary magazine's serialized novel of this form.
- There is a type of Round Robin used in the 18th century novella Little Women, where most of the characters take 'turns' to tell a long story during a garden party to 'entertain' themselves...
- Black Trillium was written by Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Julian May in this fashion: each of them wrote chapters about her respective heroine (Kadya, Haramis, and Anigel, accordingly), which were then compiled and edited into a single novel. However, the collaboration proved so stressful for all of them that they continued writing in the same universe independently, effectively creating three different continuities after BT.
- Atlanta Nights, which was specifically written to be an enormous, Plot Hole-ridden mess.
- The Floating Admiral, a Round Robin detective story done by many of the great detective authors of the 1920s and 1930s, with each chapter done by a different author, who had to figure out without hints what needed to be deduced from the previous chapters, with the final chapter requiring real detective skills to figure out how to wrap up the plot. Participants included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ronald Knox, with G. K. Chesterton writing an introduction.
- The cruise : a novel of murder and romance was a collaborative effort with many famous (and infamous) British authors including Maeve Binchy.
- Behind the Screen is a short story written by several mystery fiction writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Hugh Walpole.
- Much of the Star Wars Legends works out to be this, but with entire books and even trilogies; there are many writers who often go in completely different directions.
- The Bantam Era actually defied this trope to an extent. Authors usually stayed on for the entire series, and many were standalone novels. Legacy of the Force suffers from this in a huge way, partly because it was nine books, essentially three trilogies, and all three authors were writing independently at the same time. So, there would be stuff in Book 1 directly contradicted in Book 2. Naturally, pet characters were abound, but rarely saw a huge role in the other two authors's work
- Naked Came The Manatee, by thirteen of Florida's finest authors, including Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and Dave Barry
- Which is, of course, based off of Naked Came The Stranger, a deliberately bad book created as a collaboration between 24 authors to prove that no matter how terrible the book was, if there was enough sex in it, people would buy it. It became a bestseller in 1969.
- Dash & Lily's Book of Dares was alternately written by a husband and wife over e-mail. Notably, this fits with the theme within the actual book, seeing as the titular Dash and Lily communicated by writing in the same journal one after the other.
- Thieves' World, a dark, urban fantasy cycle mostly focused on the desert town of Sanctuary. Its contributors include such names as Poul Anderson, C. J. Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
- "The Challenge from Beyond"note was a round robin horror/fantasy novella written by five frequent contributors to Weird Tales: C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. The story goes off the rails when Howard does what he does best and Long wraps it up in a hilarious sort of way. The main character's body turns into a werebeast and drowns in a lake while his mind takes over his new body and rules the worm's empire as a benevolent dictator.
- The same fanzine issue which published the above (Fantasy Magazine) also included a science fiction round-robin with the same title "The Challenge from Beyond". The authors were Stanley G. Weinbaum, Donald Wandrei, E. E. Smith, Harl Vincent and Murray Leinster.
- The 39 Clues was written by a different author each book, beginning with Rick Riordan and ending with Margaret Peterson Haddix. The sequel series continued the trend.
- In a way, virtually every TV show ever follows this. After all, the individual episodes in a Story Arc are typically penned by different writers. Examples are obviously too numerous to list. The difference is, most showrunners have a preplanned outline for the season, or perhaps the whole series, which the staff writers must follow. Often the storylines for individual episodes are written by the showrunner or the staff, the credited writer cranks out a draft in teleplay format, and the scripts are then revised once again by the showrunner and staff.
- The Whose Line Is It Anyway? game "Three-Headed Broadway Star" featured the players making up a "hit Broadway love song" Round Robin-style, one word at a time. They had more games like these, for instance the Irish Drinking Song.
- As mentioned above, Supermarket Sweep had the Round Robin game, where each member of a team (three pairs of two) would alternate solving product name anagrams, getting more sweep time — and right after that came the Big Sweep, so it could be important in how much time a team got for that.
- And its sparring partner on Lifetime and Pax, Shop 'Til You Drop, had a similar round called the "Shopper's Challenge", where the two teams would swap positions and answer rapid-fire questions- whichever team got the most points by the end of the round would move on to the Shop Til They Drop round. Notably, this was one of the few elements kept intact when the show was heavily revamped in 2003 (and not for the better).
- Reality-On-The-Norm: Probably the definitive video game example of this trope. Each game is created by a different person from the last, often carrying on a previous story thread or using characters from earlier installments.
- "Alice in Panel-land" (now defunct), a round-robin improvisational retelling of Literature.Alice In Wonderland with elements of Alice In Sexland using Scott McCloud's idea of the internet as an infinite canvas and comic book-style rectangular panels as the self-imposed direction and restriction to how the story could be told.
- "El cadaver exquisito" and "El muertito sabrosón" two projects hosted at http://produccionesbalazo.com/ , 19 different authors in the both of them, only Spanish but still worth to check.
- "Centerstorm" (now defunct), which split off from the old (defunct) "Fan Art Headquarters" Impromanga project; it hosted all of the FAHQ's legacy comics and a number of new titles as well as all of the comics for:
- "Doji", inspired by the host site's "Monthly Online Manga" contest that gave artists a topic to draw a short comic about each month.
- Drawality is a webcomic made by artists Right and Left. They alternate drawing pages, and neither of them know what is going to happen in the next page - they just make up what they think is happening.
- The Multi-Artist Exchange improvisational comics, which after some experimentation locked in the artists drawing for each other, and open discussion of where to take the plot is heavily encouraged.
- The school year starts at WCI High, a collaborative effort by several members of the Webcomics Inc. social network site. The artists have their various characters attend high school together. Normally runs September through May, taking a hiatus during the summer (well, it is high school). Originally stand-alone stories, it started including more and more Crossover events, including the big "Sadie Hawkins Dance" storyline.
- The Pieces Project (Polish and English language versions) was a much-advertised attempt to create a Round Robin comic. To nobody's surprise, the plot is more or less utterly chaotic.
- The Whateley Universe story "Parents' Day", which worked out in the end but took about two years to get written. Word of God says they are never going to try that again.
- In The '90s, a Round Robin called "Gary and Liz: The Return to Gateway Mansion" was one of the two main features of a website called Kidpub. It was periodically refreshed when it had spiraled out of control, but eventually, everyone just started using it as a time-delayed chat room.
- There existed a webcomic called Troop 37. The premise was that a boy scout named Jimmy is one morning turned into a teenage girl. A few pages were made by one author, establishing his close friends and family, and then a reader would each call shotgun on drawing the next page of the progressing story of Jimmy's misadventures. The problem was that the artists kept taking a long time to produce the pages. Eventually interest petered out, and the story wound down to an unofficial end.
- Addventure, an early attempt at an online implementation of such a story.
- Infinity on 30 Credits a Day was an attempt by the Comic Irregulars at a plot-driven Round Robin webcomic where different people do the artwork and the writing.
- The "Reanimated Collab". In contrast to general "animation jams" like Anijam mentioned below, this consists of a team of animators choosing a preexisting work (be it an animated short, episode of a show, or even an entire film), and having each person reanimate a scene without seeing how anybody else is going to approach their portion. The only requirement is that the new scene at least resembles the corresponding scene in the original.
- A piece of occasionally resurfacing Internet lore concerns an English teacher who paired her students and told them to write a story in this format. Unfortunately, one such pair turned out to consist of a borderline Granola Girl alongside an insecure Manchild. The story alternates between a Mary Sue (Wangsty Purple Prose about relationships) and a Marty Stu (adolescent Space Marine power fantasy).
- The animated short Anijam consists of segments animated by different animators revolving around a single character. The animators were only given the last frame of the previous segment, which then became the first frame of their segment, and were told only to make sure the character appeared at the beginning and end. The segments range from the humorous to the abstract, and sometimes the character disappears for most of the segment, but reappears at the end for the next one.