Friday, December 21, 2012

On Being a Co-Writer

What is co-writing?

Co-writing means you and one or more people are writing a story conjointly. Each of you share a load in producing the final product. Some well-known co-authors are Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman with “Good Omens”, P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast of the “House of Night” series, and Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler with “The Future of Us”.

I’ve seen co-writing done in a variety of ways, or even any combination of the following:

  • RPG style – writers divide up the characters in a turn-based style of writing. Occasionally, only one of the writers knows what the plot will be, like a game master, while the others follow along.
  • Piecemeal – writers do various passages or scenes from an outline that they later string together.
  • Narrator-based – each writer has their own main character, and often scenes will be written interchangeably from a main character’s limited POV. Secondary characters may or may not be assigned.
  • Open mic – writers take turns writing up to certain points and then change hands.

The result of co-writing can be superior compared to writing alone. Creative minds come together and build and strengthen characters and plot and premise. Different writers have different strengths, so combining all these strengths could produce a synergistic explosion of literary greatness.

But I say “can” and “could” because the project of co-writing comes with a folded up insert of complications and warnings. Co-writing requires a lot more from writing singly and it’s certainly not for everyone for various reasons.

  1. Creative minds clash. Putting a handful of writers together and telling them to come up with a single piece doesn’t always work out that way. Some people will want different things. Some people will want to write differently. A collective conscious is hard to obtain.
  2. Cooperation. I had a group project in my fashion business class, and everyone had their own idea of what they wanted. No one was willing to compromise – at least, that’s what happened behind each other’s backs. Gossip and an unwillingness to talk things out or participate effectively created a very under-the-table type of animosity.
  3. Time and effort must be applied equally from each writer. No one likes to feel that they’re working harder for something than their fellow group mates. At the same time, no one likes to feel like one group member is taking over a project that should be shared.
  4. Solving problems. Especially if writers are unfamiliar with each other or live far away, identifying problems with plot or structure or character might make a writer nervous because they don’t want to insult their partners, especially if said partners are unaccustomed to constructive criticism.
  5. Revising. This has great potential to spark a variety of disagreements. One writer might think a scene needs to be altered because it’s not working out, while the other writer might think the scene is fine the way it is. There might be conflicts with characters or the way something was worded or a particular development.

If you’ve considered co-writing with someone or multiple someones, the aforementioned dangers may lie ahead. If you’ve tried co-writing and found it didn’t work out, your problem(s) might have been any of the above. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that you can’t ever have a partner or partners. It might just be that you need to find the right co-writers for you.

My primary co-writer is my writing soul mate (and also my actual soul mate). We have similar styles and we understand the way each other think so well that we can often predict the plot twists of our individually written stories. We also put out a lot. I mean a lot. We’re proficient and constantly so, and when one of us has a change of heart, the other can follow. We still have our disagreements and get huffy with each other, but we compromise or resolve issues quickly.

Finding a writing soul mate isn’t as simple as an ad on a Craig’s List. It takes two brains with the perfect creative chemistry and willingness to be wrong over right.

Like marriage.

You’ve got to date the writer, movie night the writer, make promises with the writer, meet those promises with the writer, bed the writer—er, well, maybe you don’t have to take it that far. But pretty close. Both you and your writing soul mate have to be at a level where you understand and respect each other’s sexual expression, because this can resonate in whatever you write.

My secondary co-writer is a longtime friend and also one of my betas/critique partners. This means we’re completely comfortable with being objective and pointing out issues and overcoming creative pride. We’ve had a long time to mature together and establish a hearty foundation of trust and respect. (Although I haven’t had a chance to revise anything we’ve written together – then she’ll disown me for sure.)

If you’re interested in co-writing, you’ll have a much better experience if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Be open and allow your partner(s) to be open. Unload all your ideas and allow your partner(s) to do the same.
  2. Compromise. This isn’t a time where there can be “agree to disagree” situations. Either you agree to do something or you don’t. Just be ready to concede if your partner is much more adamant about their idea than you are about yours, or find ways to mesh ideas together.
  3. Don’t let yourself get upset or angry. If your idea doesn’t work out, don’t sulk about it, otherwise you’ll have less fun and your partner(s) will consequently have less fun.
  4. Research. Oftentimes a problem can stem from writers ending up with two different visuals of what the world looks like – especially in the case of fantasy. Establish your world and its rules as thoroughly as possible before writing. Create visuals. If neither/none of you are artists, then look up visuals and create a collage.
  5. Commit. This is a marriage, which means you owe it to your partner(s) to give it your 100 percent. If you can’t, then don’t get down on your knee and propose, or don’t say “I do.”
  6. Talk things out. If there are problems, don’t just sit on your hands. Be open, or else problems will ferment and grow until one little thing sets you off.
  7. Choose a writer or writers like you would critique partners. What I mean is you should choose writers who write similarly and write/read similar stuff. If you like writing women’s fiction “Sex in the City” style, don’t choose someone who writes hard military espionage.
  8. Also, you want your personal writing styles to be fairly similar, more so depending on what sort of method you’re going to be writing. I’ve had a friend who could tell the difference between when P.C. Cast had written a scene and when Kristin Cast had written a scene. You don’t want that.

If you and your partner(s) can adhere to these guidelines, then you’re likely to have a more successful time. Remember, it’s gotta be fun. When it stops being fun, reevaluate what’s gone wrong and remember to be open about it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Are Weak Verbs?

What are weak verbs?

Weak verbs are action words that are used so frequently that they have little weight or meaning. While these words are natural parts of dialogue, they work less effectively in narrative to describe action.

"She ran through the trees."


"She careened through the trees."

The word "run" is a weak verb and doesn't paint as vivid of a picture as "careen". The suggestions above are suggestions only and will change the action and emotional value of your sentence depending on which one you choose.

Consider the moment you're trying to convey. Consider your character. Consider the mood and the level of danger. A character who's terrified will careen through the trees. A character who's furious will blast through the trees. A character who's chasing something will zip through the trees.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Smashing of the Words! #8

Brave and Heroic Author: Jeremy Levine
Villainous Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

I am writing this account because it helps me keep track of things that are true about this story. It all began on a boat. A ship, actually. I called it a boat once and some crew member with an intimidating hairdo told me off for demeaning the majesty of the vessel.
So it all began on a ship. We were spending the week doing goofy vacation stuff: sandcastles, beach volleyball, smoothies, all that. Melissa and I had a real great time of it, being young and goofy and all of that. It was pretty perfect.
Then, this one night, they were having a big party in one of the main rooms, and it was great. There was a live band playing all of this groovy jazz, some fancy finger foods with names that I can’t pronounce, and a lot of hilariously overdressed older folks. A great party indeed.
And the music was righteous. Melissa and I were right there in the middle of the floor, dancing and twirling around, keeping up with the best of ‘em. The tunes filled every part of us. Melissa’s smile would light up her face and work all the way up to her eyes until they got all squinty, but you could still sort of see how beautiful and green they were. The music sounded just like we felt, the trumpets rocketing into these elaborate solos and the drums pounding out a beat we could have danced to if only we had the time.

Strong Points--

Very characteristic voice. It dates this story without outright stating it, because, let’s face it, “groovy” is very time-specific. “Tunes” and “goofy” sort of contribute to this too.

“Intimidating hairdo” I love this. I laughed, and I got to picture whatever I wanted to.
“…if only we had the time.” OMG. What happened? You just got a huge question mark out of me and that’s the best part, because now I want to know why they didn’t have the time, and what cut this sweet lover’s vacation short.

I love that last paragraph all together, because the narrator’s description of Melissa is so heartfelt and so much in the little detail of her eyes and her smile. This is great showing. It’s not overly lengthy, but it’s just enough instead of just writing off the moment or the woman herself as “beautiful”.

Some Tips--

“There was a live band playing…” This sentence and others with similar structure can be made so much more powerful with just a little rearranging of the words. “A live band played.” Less words, more of an impact. You can also strengthen your verbs. You already have with things such as "the drums pounded", now apply that elsewhere, and get rid of all of the "could" and "sort of" and "kind of". I understand that people talk like that, and it sounds very natural, but we don't want to read it over and over.

Also, no "you".

There’s a bit of telling in here. “It was pretty perfect” and “It was great”. That doesn’t paint as vivid of a picture as the character’s description of Melissa in the last paragraph. I want to feel how great the moment is from our narrator’s eyes, not just have it told to me. Those moments will really contribute to his (or her?) characterization! Try to avoid “great” and words like that, since they’re so vague in meaning.

But the only part of the first paragraph I would keep is the line where the intimidating hairdo guy corrects him. Otherwise, I think your opening lines may need redone. They’re sort of falling into cliché territory, and no one wants that. They’re equivalent to telling us “I’m beginning a story” which we don’t need to be told. We just want you to start the story.

Would I keep reading?

That last line was a killer! It took a little while to get there, but you've done a good job at setting up our stage and god, that last line! That hooked me, and I would keep reading just to find out WHY.

Great job, don't ever feel shy about resubmissions either!

<3 <3 <3 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First 250 Words Smash! #7

Most Wonderful Author: M.A.B. || Writers of Yore
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: Mwyr
History: Word Smash #3

Chan's lungs were starved to the point of bursting, struggling for air with each gasp. That didn't stop him from urging his horse on faster. He sat forward in the saddle and leaned low over the neck of his horse, teeth ground together to keep from biting his tongue.

He could feel the beat of the wings more than actually hear them above the din of hooves and the distant rumbling of an approaching storm. Each stroke tainted the air with a current of dark magic, and the creak of joints echoed through his own bones. Unearthly creatures chased after him, and he had no other choice but to flee.

If he could only just reach home—

Chan's gaze focused on the ancient tree that grew at the side of the road. It meant that he was close. He allowed himself a small smile and patted his horse's neck. “Almost there, old girl. We'll be safe soon.” He could only manage a whisper, and even that was whipped right from his lips by the wind.

The horse must have understood all the same because her pace increased a fraction.

As they neared the tree, Chan realized that someone was standing beside it, either ignoring the steadily increasing rain or completely oblivious to it. She remained still as a statute, an odd flash of color in the dreary landscape. He pulled up short, legs clamping down to keep from falling off as the horse reared back in surprise.

Strong Points –
Chase scenes are pretty darn awesome. I can see this as a natural lead into what’s going on, starting with this guy and the reader asking the questions of who’s chasing him and what’s chasing him and what the heck he did to earn being chased in the first place and how home will save him from these creatures and— /run-on sentence.

There’s a very strong sense of his character already, especially how, in the midst of whatever’s going on, he can still maintain enough wherewithal to soothe and speak to his horse. Just from the way he orients himself around the horse, he starts to climb out of the page.

My favorite line is the description of the girl as a show of color in the dreary landscape. I cling to visual bits like this, anything the ones that can paint a very stylistic picture in my head. This one is also very realistic in the sense that, in this moment of the chase, he doesn’t identify her details just yet, only vague concepts, such as color or movement (or shape or size, etc.). Many writers feel pressured to get details in as quickly as possible, but there are more important details alluded to here, such as how she’s standing completely rigid. These sorts of details move the reader effortlessly onward.

Some Tips –
This goes into some grammatical language that I’m sure someone else could explain more effectively and accurately than I could, but here’s my “The last time I took a class in grammar was fifth grade and I got a C” version.

This is a great example of action and reaction, or how the action is defined after the action has been made. A smooth flow of action is generated by a formula like this:

a + b = c

As in:

“She opened the door and walked outside.”

But this formula (which I almost typed formular) gets repetitious and boring, and writers will seek ways to work around this. Oftentimes, this leads to a reverse formular formula that looks more like this:

c = a + b

As in:

“She walked outside after she opened the door.”

Of course, in its simple form, it doesn’t read well. Like creative alternatives to the “said” dialogue tag (she whispered urgently; he roared angrily; I gasped breathlessly), this formula can jolt the reader from the story. But in a more complex form, it often does the same thing:

“Almost there, old girl. We'll be safe soon.” He could only manage a whisper, and even that was whipped right from his lips by the wind.

There’s actually two reverse formulas in here. One is this:

“Almost there, old girl. We'll be safe soon.” He could only manage a whisper

c: “Almost there, old girl. We’ll be safe soon.”

a: He could only manage

b: a whisper

The other is slightly different because of its passive tense, but:

He could only manage a whisper, and even that was whipped right from his lips by the wind.

c: He could only manage a whisper

a: the wind

b: (and even that was) whipped right from his lips

In this case, the action is made, and then refined after. It’s like taking two steps forward and one step back when an action scene should charge forward and never (or rarely) look back. During moments of conflict, tension must be at its highest. Shorter, simpler sentences are one of the best ways to convey and propel the reader into a riveting pace. I’d consider rearranging the pieces to look something along the lines of this:

The wind whipped from his lips the words he could only manage to whisper. “Almost there, old girl. We’ll be safe soon.”

a: The wind whipped from his lips

b: the words he could only manage to whisper

c: “Almost there, old girl. We’ll be safe soon.”

(I took each fragment and rearranged them respectively, although this can also be made simpler at the writer’s own discretion.)

The above allows no steps backward. In moments of panic or high levels of adrenaline, the mind works faster, and a good way to replicate this is to make your narrative sharp, clear, and brief:

The tires lost traction. Rubber screeched. He jerked on the wheel and the car swerved. Impact.

Compare that to this:

Rubber screeched when the tires lost traction. When he jerked on the wheel, the car swerved and hit the barrier.

The second example loses the energy and tension that drives the pacing of an action scene.

As an example from the passage above, take this:

The horse must have understood all the same because her pace increased a fraction.

And consider this:

The horse must have understood. Her pace increased a fraction.

Or as another alternative:

The horse must have understood—her pace increased a fraction.

Also make sure to do away with unnecessary words. The phrase “all the same” doesn’t carry enough weight or meaning and doesn’t change or help the sentence. Voice is important to convey, of course, even in third person narratives, but phrases like these are heard and read so often that readers will glaze right over them anyway.

Also, beware of passive tense! The very opening sentence could be so much stronger if “were starved” was fixed, along with other moments further on. “He could feel the beat of the wings more than actually hear them,” I understand is a moment of unreliable narration, which can be a great tool to tell a story, but at this point the reader has just been dropped into this new world and is trying to understand the mechanics of it and what’s going on, so the ambiguity in this instance isn’t readily grasped so early on into the intro.

Would I Keep Reading?
The introduction of the girl near the end was the extra spice for me in this intro, and I can already tell she’s special and I want to know why and what she’s going to do and what he’s going to do and—arg, SUSPENSE.

So, yes, I would keep reading. Work on fine-tuning your style, clipping unnecessary and empty words, then resend it to me so I can focus more on the content!