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Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 10:57 am
by craig
I've got a friend that I've been tossing a few story ideas around with and we've expressed interest in writing something together. The only issue is that we have no idea how a co-authoring process works -- and I'm sure there are as many methods as there are co-authors.

The slight hitch in this whole thing is that this friend lives about 1600 kilometers away -- so we can't meet up and hash out ideas in person or sit side-by-side at the computer together and get things going. Our communication tools are mostly facebook and MSN and email.

So does anyone know of some co-authoring methods? Like, each writer takes a chapter, or each writer writes from a particular viewpoint, or... I don't know... what are some other ways of going about this?

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 11:09 am
by christi
I co-author with a friend (on stuff we've no plans of publishing) who lives in RI and I'm in TX. We discuss an idea in IM, then use gmail to go back and forth: her charrie, my charrie, the scene, etc. Then, when the scene is done, I take her tags and my tags and put them into Microsoft Word and edit them until they sound like one fluid perspective. It's a lot easier than it sounds, I swear! We've written about 10 books together. Again, nothing we'd publish since our stuff is 'out there.'

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 11:17 am
by maybegenius
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were actually living quite far apart when they coauthored Good Omens - and this was in the 80's, when they actually mailed each other hard copies of disks with their part of the story on it! The horror.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Gaiman and Pratchett had known each other since 1985 and it was their own idea, not that of their publisher, to collaborate on a novel.[2]

Neil Gaiman has said:

We were both living in England when we wrote it. At an educated guess, although neither of us ever counted, Terry probably wrote around 60,000 "raw" and I wrote 45,000 "raw" words of Good Omens, with, on the whole, Terry taking more of the plot with Adam and the Them in, and me doing more of the stuff that was slightly more tangential to the story, except that broke down pretty quickly and when we got towards the end we swapped characters so that we'd both written everyone by the time it was done, but then we also rewrote and footnoted each others bits as we went along, and rolled up our sleeves to take the first draft to the second (quite a lot of words), and, by the end of it, neither of us was entirely certain who had written what. It was indeed plotted in long daily phone calls, and we would post floppy disks (and this was back in 1988 when floppy disks really were pretty darn floppy) back and forth.[3]

while Terry Pratchett has said:

I think this is an honest account of the process of writing Good Omens. It was fairly easy to keep track of because of the way we sent discs to one another, and because I was Keeper of the Official Master Copy I can say that I wrote a bit over two thirds of Good Omens. However, we were on the phone to each other every day, at least once. If you have an idea during a brainstorming session with another guy, whose idea is it? One guy goes and writes 2,000 words after thirty minutes on the phone, what exactly is the process that's happening? I did most of the physical writing because:

1. I had to. Neil had to keep Sandman going – I could take time off from the DW;
2. One person has to be overall editor, and do all the stitching and filling and slicing and, as I've said before, it was me by agreement – if it had been a graphic novel, it would have been Neil taking the chair for exactly the same reasons it was me for a novel;
3. I'm a selfish bastard and tried to write ahead to get to the good bits before Neil.

Initially, I did most of Adam and the Them and Neil did most of the Four Horsemen, and everything else kind of got done by whoever – by the end, large sections were being done by a composite creature called Terryandneil, whoever was actually hitting the keys. By agreement, I am allowed to say that Agnes Nutter, her life and death, was completely and utterly mine. And Neil proudly claims responsibility for the maggots. Neil's had a major influence on the opening scenes, me on the ending. In the end, it was this book done by two guys, who shared the money equally and did it for fun and wouldn't do it again for a big clock."[2]

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 11:21 am
by tameson
Writing Excuses did a discussion on writing with a collaborator a few weeks ago. You might want to give that a listen.

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 3:33 pm
by Nick
1600 kilometres isn't that bad with the way the interwebs work these days. From the pages of Vampire Science (pub 1997):

"First of all we owe a huge debt to the inventors of the internet -- while most of this book was written face-to-face, these last few months we've been e-mailing chapters from Washington DC to Sydney and back at a frantic pace."

13 years ago, e-mail and such things were really still in their infancy. I reckon if they could make it work for DC to Sydney back then, the internet can help you even more now.

As to the actual process of co-authoring, I could probably venture a few guesses but I reckon they're all far of the mark.

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 4:21 pm
by marilyn peake
One way that multiple authors can co-write a book is to do a “Round Robin” in which each writer writes one chapter in a novel – no plot or outline ahead of time, each writer taking the story wherever they choose. An example of this is the Round Robin that Mike Resnick edited a few years ago: ... 1&id=58370 . I once signed up to participate in a different Round Robin, but some of the writers were unable to find the time to write their chapter. It was fun reading the initial chapters – I never got my turn, but the early chapters were fantastic.

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 6:13 pm
by bcomet
Co-writing can be really, REALLY fun.
I think someone has to be the "editor," the one that keeps the story on track, whatever that may mean.
There should be a wildcard writer, but not so wild as to keep taking the story off in completely new directions every 200-2000 words, but wild enough to keep it INTERESTING along the path,(um, plot, as it were).
No matter who does the lion's share, if it turns out uneven, a shared authorship is still a shared credit, disgrace, income, expense, etc.
Write with minds you like a lot.
Write with characters you trust.
Let go and let the creative process have its way with you and then shore it up or designate (stated above) a captain.
Trust your captain.
Best of luck and let us know how it goes!

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 7:42 pm
by Elizabeth Poole
Not to be a downer, but I feel like I must give you a word of caution.

Be careful in what you invest in co-authoring.

I am sure it’s your very best friend you are considering doing this with, someone you like, and trust, but you never know what might happen.

True story, happened to me: When I was in high school I was developing a huge, sprawling fantasy epic. My best friend at the time would talk to me about said idea. He started adding more and more input to the project, until we started role playing storylines and conflicts out with the rest of our friends (yes, I am that much of a nerd, I roleplay too). His characters become integral parts of the plot lines, more tightly interwoven and interconnected than peanut butter and jelly.

Years passed. All was well.

Until we started to grow apart. It had nothing to do with the series, everything to do with our personalities, and my growing and changing as a person. The series started to become a bone of contention, and I felt like I had to wait for someone else to work on something, to get another person’s approval. Once the friendship went the way of the dodo, I was left with my dream, my massive, sprawling epic of a fantasy series, now riddled with someone’s else characters, and ideas.

I agonized for long months about what to do. His characters were still his, I didn’t want to take them. I would know the difference, especially if the books were published. Once I started to write the characters, I know they would have become my own, but the names, descriptions, backstories would still be someone else’s. It felt too much like plagiarism. So I did what I had to, and cut everything of his out of the series, leaving a bleeding mess in my wake.

Not every collaboration turns out like this, I know that. Look at Good Omens. It’s a great book, by two wonderful authors. You need to decide what is best for you, and that will probably include trying out collaborating with someone you enjoy writing with. I say go for the gold. I just wanted to warn you, to help you with my experience. I’m not saying you two should sign a contract or his “going to steal all your ideas”. I just wanted you to be forewarned.

I hope you figure out the best way to collaborate, and don’t think I am just trying to rain on your parade.

Best wishes!

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 18th, 2010, 8:23 pm
by craig
Yeah, I'm treading very cautiously. For my own writing, I've got my own set of universes, characters, themes, etc. For this potential co-authoring project, I am intending to completely separate the joint writing from my individual writing. From what we've got so far, which isn't much more than a hook, a setting, a main character, and a two-sentence plot, it is totally different from anything I would write on my own, so I don't think I have to worry too much about what would happen if we'd drift apart in the future.

This may not even get off the ground in the first place as we are different types of writers. I write novel-length sci-fi based in my own universes -- and I write because I love writing. He writes short-story fan-fic for a certain series -- and he writes because he had a couple stories in his head and now that they're out, he doesn't have a huge pull towards writing.

It may sound like we're the wrong match, but I've read a couple of his stories and I think that if the two of us could create something together, it would be unique and separate from either of our individual writings. We would each bring something unique to the project that we wouldn't be able to replicate without the other person, so anything we write would be dependent on us working together. So if we no longer work together, then neither of us would be able to carry on the book/series without the other. At least, theoretically.

Re: Co-Authoring / Writing with a Partner

Posted: February 20th, 2010, 8:54 pm
by Elizabeth Poole
That sounds like a really good situation!

I am so glad you didn't think I was trying to rain on your parade. And it's an added bonus if you have your own work, that you could continue while he is working on his end.

You might want to decide how much writing the other guy is going to do too. To me, in order to co-author a book he would have to write SOMETHING and not just be a sounding board. The way Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaimen did Good Omens seems like a good idea, because you can ship the book back and forth without worry.

Best of luck! Let us know if you need more advice/ideas.