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.

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