Co-authoring

Writing a novel can be rewarding, but alone, it is hard, stressful work—all the plot threads, characters, techniques, rules, research to keep track of—round after round of edits. Imagine if you could clone yourself. Your clone will flush out your hazy ideas, break through the frustrations of writer’s block, and edit while you sleep.




Or you could find a co-author—someone who thinks and writes like you, enjoys the same books, gives you the best comments when they beta-read your work, and is as dedicated to the journey of writing as you are.



Step One – Set the Ground Rules
But writers are a sensitive bunch, and a joint project can deteriorate into chaos. To avoid destroying a friendship or the next best seller, determine your rules of operation before diving into writing:

1. Set deadlines for each phase of the project. Or agree not to have deadlines and to let the project take as long as it needs. When co-authoring with a serious writer, your writing partner may have other projects in the works. Make a pact that this be the stress-free fun project.

2. Control your source file. Sending a document through email can get confusing, and you may end up with multiple copies in varying stages of development. Decide beforehand how you will manage this.

3. Plan how to settle arguments. Mutual respect and understanding can solve many problems, but for the unsolvable, hold a coin toss or leave things unchanged until a solution can be found.

4. Agree to compromise and to have a good attitude. Remember that nobody “owns” the project.



Step Two – Brainstorming
Start a document with headers for each character, for the world building, and for the plot points. Mark your name as you leave comments to allow for conversations within the document. Pass this document back and forth until you have explored every subject and idea.



The following example describes a Lizard Man for a middle-grade novel I'm working on with Wendy Swore:

What are his special abilities?

Writer One: I imagine him to be cold blooded and able to blend in well to his surroundings. I’m not sure that he’s a chameleon so much; just that he’s so cold and mottled that no one would notice he’s a man.

Writer Two: On top of the ability to hide, he should be able to move without making a sound. Perhaps he can walk on walls and ceilings. He likely has a great deal of strength and can jump great distances.




Step Three – Plotting
Once you have flushed out the story, pull your ideas into a chapter synopsis. The following describes how two brothers will meet the Lizard Man:

Chapter One

Bullies toss Tsol’s journal over a fence and into a hedge maze. When Deen races to get it, Tsol hangs back. He does not break rules since being near-perfect seems the way to get adults to leave him alone. He is a naturally inverted kid who knows adults don’t appreciate his imaginative ideas. He prefers his books and experiments to people. But when Deen doesn’t return, Tsol must climb the fence to find his brother.




Step Four – Writing
Following this pattern, the clones can create a first draft containing both writer’s styles and ideas threaded throughout the story:

1. Writer One writes the first chapter and passes it to Writer Two.

2. Writer Two edits the first chapter, writes the second chapter, and then passes it to Writer One.

3. Writer One reviews changes to the first chapter, edits the second chapter, writes the third chapter, and passes it to Writer Two.



Step Five – Editing
“Track Changes” is your friend. You can add comments and discussions, additions and deletions until each writer is happy with every word. Keep an open mind, and don’t marry yourself to the parts you wrote. For two styles to come together, neither one can dominate.



When editing, watch for consistency errors. Writer One pictures a scene one way, but Writer Two describes a completely different room. Or Writer Two adds a side character, and Writer One drops the character from the story.



Ending Thoughts
Sometimes, in the endless turmoil of being a writer, you need a fun project. For me, this is the best way to do it. Have fun!
 
And don't forget to tell me about your co-authoring projects!

3 comments:

  1. Excellent and well thought out advice, Rita. I think it takes a special person to co-author - one not prone to control-freakery : )

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  2. That's me: the queen of not control freakery.

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  3. This sounds like a lot of fun! I've heard the term beta-readers being thrown around the blogosphere recently but didn't really know what it was about. I always pictured co-authoring to be a complex and time-consuming task... but you make it sound so simple!

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