Friday, May 18, 2012

Writing with a Partner

The Peeper - Amazon Kindle
This is a re-post of one of my first blogs, but several people have asked about writing with a partner, so here it is again. 
Have you ever considered writing with a friend? Or even someone you respect but don’t know well? 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; I was a published author and editor. He had the basic concept and asked if I’d be interested. I definitely was.
Chris has a strong personality and presence. I’m quieter, more dig-in-and-hang-on than commander in chief. It kept life interesting for many months.
Jim Christopher
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.
Set ground rules. Be constructive. In our case, we read Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer’s ideas 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 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.


Donna Yates said...

Excellent advice. I've people who partner, and the writing is usually great.

Polly said...

Since I saw this book develop, I was astounded at how both Ellis and Chris complemented each other. It was a terrific working relationship.

CK said...

Great post! Sounds like you had a truly harmonious partnership.

And I think compromise is one of the most important yet most difficult skills to master, so congrats on that AND on the book!

Crack You Whip said...

I think writing with someone is great and so glad you could do it so amazingly. I have one friend who writes like me and I would love to collaborate with her if given the chance.

Ellis Vidler said...

Compromise can indeed be difficult. It's so hard to divorce yourself from your own idea and look at something objectively. Chris was very good at taking our personalities out of it and analyzing something logically. It made things easier when we had different views.