Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing with a Partner

Have you ever considered writing with a friend? Or even someone you respect but don’t know well? It can be a challenge. I did, and it turned out to be a great experience, but it doesn’t always have a happy ending. We’re all egotists in some way and used to having total control over our writing. It’s normally a solitary endeavor, and sharing responsibilities and control is a new concept. You have to be willing to set aside your ego, at least most of the time. This is my experience.

First, decide why you want to partner with the other person. Do you have complimentary skills and knowledge? Is one of you plot-oriented but not as strong on character development? Assess your abilities and see if they mesh. If you have the same areas of strength, you’re more likely to clash. You really must respect each other’s ideas and sensibilities. My partner for The Peeper, Jim Christopher (Chris), is a forty-year law enforcement veteran and a terrific storyteller (He has other stories that will make your hair stand up!) and I'm a published author and editor. He had the basic concept and asked if I’d be interested. Yes! I definitely was.

Chris is a big man with a big personality. He makes a lasting impression on everyone he meets. I’m quieter, more dig-in-and-hang-on than commander in chief. Our differences kept life interesting for many months.

Set ground rules. Be constructive. We decided I was stronger at relationships and he at plotting, but both of us could make valuable contributions to any part of the story. This worked well until he wanted to kill someone I cared about. After my outraged protest, I think he pushed it just to stir the pot. Humor is important.

We read Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer’s posts on collaboration and decided that, on the main characters, Chris would have final say on the males and I would have it on the females. But we wrote whole scenes individually, including all the characters in the scene. Then we exchanged them by email and made minor changes to each other’s work. If we felt significant changes were needed, we discussed them in person. We also met for plotting sessions. Sometimes we disagreed and hashed it out over several days, arguing our reasons and objections. But in spite of our very different personalities, we didn’t get angry. I believe this is because we respected each other and were both willing to compromise. Most of the time.

Chris has a peculiar ability to foresee scenes in number of words. He’d say, “We need a fight with this and this. It should run about 3,500 words. Then this should happen. It’ll take about 5,000 words.” That’s totally foreign to me. I just write until it’s done. But he turned out to be amazingly close.

Of course he had the final say on the police procedures. Even though I wrote some of those scenes, he made sure they were correct. I learned a lot. And he wrote some of the more personal Kay and Sam scenes. I’ll bet some of his cop friends would be surprised. I was.

Elliott, the hero of the story, was Chris’s brain child. He set the tone and voice initially, but his idea was so clear I was able to follow it. Much of the humor came out of Chris’s head. I loved it.

So if you find the right person, it can be a great experience. If you don’t, admit it isn’t working, dissolve the partnership quickly, and stay friends.

Have you tried this? Did it work for you? What went wrong and what went right? Any suggestions? We’d like to know.



Polly said...

Since I went along for the ride, vicariously, I saw how well you two worked together. Chris is a raconteur, a storyteller, and a good one. You are a wordsmith, a grammarian, AND a storyteller. It worked, too, because The Peeper is an excellent collaboration. I enjoyed reading every page.

Sandy Cody said...

Saw your post on Guppies and checked out the blog. Nice. Good luck with it.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I'm glad your co-writing paid off. With a police thriller, I can see where it made sense. Each brought their own strengths to bear on the project.

Your ground rules are quite helpful for any who are planning to walk a similar path.

I was once asked to co-write with someone, but I have so many demands on my time, along with four different WIP's, I had to regretfully decline.

Sadly, the person has never been as friendly with me since. Sigh. You have a fascinating blog, Roland

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi! I saw Polly's post on the Guppies list, and since I also critique with Polly, I thought I'd "check out the competition!"

Welcome to the blogosphere.

I can't imagine writing how challenging it would be to write with a partner. Kudos to you and Jim for pulling it off. Wishing you many more successes.

Maggie Toussaint

Ellis Vidler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellis Vidler said...

Why is you never see the typos till after you post?
Thank you all for the comments. Roland, I like the movie and music references on your blog. Bogie and Bacall are favorites.
Maggie, I've heard many good things about you and your writing from Polly--hope to meet you one day.
Viva, the piece on your blog is pure magic. Beautiful writing, mood, and tension. I'm envious.
My friend and critique partner Polly already knows what I think.