Thursday, June 4, 2009

Series:Co-Authoring for Lazy and Informative Two-Somes

Talk about a fluke. H responded to a post on the beta board. T was thrilled to try her hand at that, and especially when What You Thought You Knew turned out to be a story she would have picked to read anyway.

When T decided to publish Lucky Charm, H became the generous reciprocal beta. And that was the extent of it, until Manyafandom’s Valentine’s Day contest.

“So, Heather, since you are the sap master, I really think you need to write a one-shot for the V-Day contest.”

“If I’m going in, you’re coming with me. Your E; my B.”

Taking a Hit of the Crack Pipe

And so it began. We tossed out a vague premise, and 48 hours later, we had a draft which ended up changing very little when we published it.

It was this two day period that probably hooked us both on the whole concept of co-authoring. We could barely leave our computers for fear we’d miss the next update. We plotted our absences down to the minute. What would she do next? How will I play off that? Would she take the bait? The experience was so positive and the outcome beyond expectation that we worried about expanding into a full story because we didn’t know if the drug would have the same potency. But in the end, while there have been challenges along the way, there remains no doubt that the high has been worth the hangover so to speak.


Nothing tells the truth like a snippet of a GChat log:

5:49 PM me: Just read the Alice chapter.
5:51 PM Oh and did I send you a 22 today? I thought I had, but we need to merge the changes I made yet to the one you just sent me.
hmonster4: no
5:52 PM me: crap. I did it at work, which means I'll have to see if I can log in.
hmonster4: lmao
    i am going to buy you a thumb drive
5:53 PM me: I have one. Never use it.
hmonster4: slacker
5:54 PM me: I'm sick. Hope it's not swine flu. LOL
5:55 PM hmonster4: nah - that's too exciting

Okay, we’re coming clean. Neither of us is perfect. T’s organizational skills are . . . lacking. She can’t keep track of the bazillion updated chapters in her document folder to save her life, so she relies on H to send everything her way. She also may have a slight writing confidence problem, lending her to need more assurance in the process. On the other hand, H is very enthusiastic and might get us in up to our eyeballs at times (Hey, want to write an article for TLYDF for example). Much to the joy of the reader, she also likes to post a head of schedule.

Yeah, so, H might have a patience issue, but when it’s good stuff, how can we resist? But it’s a great point to kick this whole thing off with a bang.

Why the Heck You Would Ever Want to Co-Write

Writing a story with a writing partner is a blast (honestly, we are writing on our own as well right now, and it’s no where near as much fun as writing together), but it’s not without its challenges. And that is why we wanted to take some time to impart our world weary wisdom on you. Our hope – that we can convince you and a friend, beta, or admired writer to take on a story together. Why? Look at some of the fabulous co-written stories out there right now. There are the juggernauts that everybody knows like Scotch and Gin & the New Girl and The Office. There are also other fabulous stories out there for every taste and preference; Going for the Gold, Dark Salvation, How to Guide, Place Your Bets, One More Shot, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (ok, yeah, that’s a gratuitous plug for our own story, but cut us some slack ;). Wonderful stories with great depth of character and plot line can benefit from two writers.

We’re not sure our path is unique, and we didn’t necessarily follow the advice we are about to give you, but we have made a number of realizations along the way about what it takes for successful co-authoring.

So on that note, we’re kicking of a series on how to write a story together. We’ll share what we learned along the way, as well as tap others to help round out the co-writing experience.

So with that said, let’s focus on step one. Finding a hetero life mate.

Oops, that should be finding a writing partner.

Well, actually, it is kind of like finding a lifemate. We joke about falling into writing together, but it really was just that, a fluke. In hindsight, there were a bunch of things that we should have taken into consideration or talked about before diving in. Important things like writing strengths and weaknesses. Personal commitments. Character preferences.

They seem like no brainers, but can have a huge impact on a story. Perfect example, we both loathe writing lemons. True enough. When it comes to lemon time, H breaks out a bottle of red wine, and T bakes brownies. Anything to avoid/bumble through. In hindsight, it probably would have been wise to make sure that one of us was either good at it or enjoyed it (writing – get your head out of the gutter!). Instead, we hold each others hands via gchat and talk about hot men to inspire. We’ve gotten better at it over time, but it’s still quite a process. If we hadn’t formed such a strong friendship and respect for each other, it could get ugly at times (umm, WTF H, how many times are you going to use the word traced, come on! Uh, T how many metaphors for sex do you think there are?)

So, in list form (a shout out to our lovely Gustariana) here is our list of things you should consider if you are going to co-write a story.

1. Temperament and Life Style

  • T and I had it easy, we were both at the same place in our life. We are the same age, we have kids roughly the same age, we both work. Therefore we went into this with very much the same perspective as to what was important.
  • I alluded to temperament above. I’m definitely more high maintenance than H is, and if she were as high strung as I am, it could get ugly. A balance in perspective is good. What kind of support are you going to need to give each other? Will you be friends or just writing partners? You might not know all those details before you start, but you can look for clues about how your personalities might clash and at least prepare yourself for the potential conflicts.

2. Time Zone

  • We are separated by one time zone, but I also do a good bit of traveling for work. While we’ve not run into any conflicts, it helps that T is a mega morning person, and is up and going at the same time I am. We tend to get the most done early morning or in the evening (when the kids are in bed or off doing their thing). We don’t have to worry about syncing up schedules too much. BTW – traveling next week T, will be an MST not EST.
  • I do think this is important, but it probably is a self selection thing. It would be very hard to work with someone if you couldn’t have some “live” talk time as well as the ability to post at similar times. H and I may be the only morning people in the internet, so it’s good we found each other.

3. Strengths & Weaknesses

    As much as we joke about the lemon thing, it is actually a big deal. The general response is “Aw shit, not again!” We work through it, but in hindsight, we both wish the other was better at it and would take them all. As for strengths, we got lucky. I do sap well, and T does conflict fabulously. We tend to parse out the chapters to account for that, or take guidance to make our section better if it’s a weaker point. It is a check your ego at the door deal though. I’ve grown a ton in my writing skills through it, but there are times when it is humbling.
  • H went with weakness, so I’ll talk about strength—ironic given my usual inclination toward self deprecation. H writes the best Bella around imho, and my natural strength is Edward. We’ll talk about other ways to approach co-authoring later in the series, but the complementary strength has been an important part of the success of our piece and of our relationship with each other. Know what you do well and find someone who adds to it. It’s a great way for you to overcome your weaknesses both by learning from the other author and compensating for it in the story.

4. Story and Character Direction

    We agreed before we ever started the multi chapter version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s what we wanted to do with the characters, including skewering some fan fiction cliché’s. It allowed us to thresh out our approach. Had we not done that, it could have gotten dicey, especially when personal favorite characters might go in a direction that isn’t the most pleasant (ahem, Emmett).
  • We have virtually always agreed on the plot, the twists, the outline, and the direction of the story. It would be impossible to say whether that was luck or because of #1: similar lifestyle and values. We share common interests in ff, so we knew how we wanted to proceed with the story. Many times when one of us suggests a change, the other had already been considering it. How predictable or novel are you in your approach? Is your outline directive or flexible? What kind of risks do you want to take with characters? It would be good to hammer that out from the get go.

5. Writing Style

  • We co-write, literally. Lobbing a word doc back and forth like notes in high school. It works great for us, but it’s not to say it’s the best solution for everyone. Know up front how you want to write and what your partner’s expectations are. It will save you a ton of headaches down the road.
  • The goal of a good story is to suspend disbelief. Even if you are altering POV’s, disparate writing styles can make it difficult for readers to feel the flow. This will include things like sentence structure, vocabulary, tone, and formality. Will they mesh well together?

6. Quirks and Habits

  • I admit it. I am impatient and write ahead. T laughs at it, but I know she wants to throw rotten fruit at me sometimes. As much as I joke about a writing partner being a hetero lifemate, there is a lot of give and take. To sound clichéd, it’s kind of like a marriage. You have to deal with the toilet seat up and where the toothpaste tube is squeezed from.
  • I really do lose everything. Just call me the absent minded professor. I rely on H to keep us organized and to remember where we are in a process. She’s come to anticipate it and just sends me things without asking whether I have it, assuming I don’t. In our case, we “worked” together before we really got to know each other, and while that could have been a challenge, so could the opposite. If you’re friends with someone online, and you both like ff, and you think you want to write with her or him, you will see a whole new side to that person when you have a task to complete.

7. Real Life Demands

  • This is a huge tie in to criteria 1. If you are at different stages in your life, you may have different demands that impact your ability to write effectively together. I’ve heard a number of people say this is their biggest gotcha, and leads to other issues. Identifying what is important upfront is huge, and will save you grief down the road.
  • Generally speaking, setting realistic goals is the best way around this. It’s true in all relationships. If you know you have time or priority conflicts, let your partner know, but don’t underestimate how it will impact your writing. Disappointment and resentment build when you peoples’ expectations aren’t met. So, if you say you will have something by Wednesday, don’t let that day come and go without communication. We’re going to talk more about conflict later in the series, but demands will arise, and not likely at the same time. Be prepared to slow pacing as needed. Is this a good time to remind you final exams are approaching, H?

So, you’ve gone through the list and determined you are compatible. Congratulations on finding a writing partner! You’re in for a fabulous experience. But what’s next?

In the rest of this series, we will address various methods of co-authoring, how to manage the logistics of writing as well as preventing and resolving conflict.
Profmom(72), aka "Sweet T" enjoys metaphoric lemons and has a penchant for couches. Secretly reads smutty fic and likes darkward best. In her free time, you can find her warping the minds of college students. Oh wait, this is her free time.

HMonster4, rabbid lover of all things Emmett and sap (isn't that an oxymoron) is also on of the co-conspirators on The Indie TwiFi Awards, coming soon to an inbox near you. When not dabbling in ff, this well wounded girl can typical be found oggling the boys of summer on ESPN.


  1. This was fantastic and a great look into another collabing team.

    We all know how well it works for jandco and wtvoc but there really are very few truly great collabing teams.

    I've been paired for o/s twice but never tackled a full length story.

    This gives me hope to try it and find my own hetero life mate

    Until they realize how truly isane I am.

    I am looking forward to this series.

  2. C.L.I.T.? I knew you were pervs! I bet you *really* have a virtual thumb wrestles over who gets to write the lemons.

    Thanks for this take on co-authoring - it was very informative. This is a series? That is great news - I am sure if I ever take the plunge into writing something for public consumption it is more than likely to be a collaborative effort.

    I think the strengths/weaknesses was a good point to make and I look forward to hearing more about conflict resolution and fitting in around real life demands - both yours and your partner's.

  3. Hey ladies! I loved this! Me and my cyber wifey are going to be starting a collab story in the very near future! This excites me to get started on it even sooner!

  4. OME! I love you. You are my favorite co authors, and you're smart and pretty!

  5. I can say from personal experiance... co-authoring is a blessing in disugse.

    Intrested in seeing where this series goes :)

  6. Great post!

    I'm not a fan fic writer, but I have a silly little blog and some of my ALL TIME favorite posts are ones I've co written. Plus I have written a few of my own stories and my favorite thing is to talk them through with others, take what they have to offer. Bouncing ideas off other is SO IMPORTANT.

    Thanks again. Hope you feel better soon. :)

  7. What a great topic! I've always marvelled at writers who can collaborate - it's a lot harder than it looks.

    I giggled at your list...especially when I thought about my partner in crime, Roo (we wrote "Brotherhood" together...this ends the self-pimpage portion of this post). She's young...I'm...well...not so much. I have kids, she doesn't. She's three timezones away, as well as several latitudes, too. She's a Yuppie, I'm a SAHM. We share the same sarcastic temperament, though, so maybe that's the key 8-)

    Your other points fit us to a 'T' though. We also passed documents back and forth, intermingling our writing, though I've seen several collabs that were written in a 'you do 500 words, then I'll do 500' that are very good (Pregnant Vampire Bella Joins the Army springs to mind).

    The funny thing is that it was the story that brought us together... Is that what happened to you too? One idea led to a funny line led to a drabble, led to a story. She and I both beta for each other, so we have a relationship when it came to telling each other that something doesn't work. The fact that she's actually funny helped too. But it was that initial 'hey, this'd make a great fic' that got us going.

    Anyway, I can't wait to see what you tackle next! Have you guys actually met? I have yet to come face to face with Roo...someday!

  8. Blondie -

    We've beta'd for each other, and it just kind of evolved from there. I'll actually be in the same city that T lives in next week, where we'll post the final full chapter of our fic. Our plan is to post, blubber, then start outlining the next one. One heck of a first face to face, eh?

  9. Man, that sounds like fun! Toss in a few drinks and a whole lot of laughter, and you have the makings of a fic right there! 8-D

    Have a great time! I'm jealous!

  10. I just found this, searched for freaking ever cause I'm just a blond dork. But man, I'm glad I did. I love this collumn, and I love that you asked me and kino to join... *sigh* it made our itty hearts swell.

    Thanks for this, I think it's a great idea to explore this writing style.


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