- Comic Relief
And this isn’t just our warped perspective on the world. We interviewed thousands of writers (well, maybe more like 30) with different experience levels to get their perspectives on their experiences with co-writing. We asked about process, preferences, issues, pluses and minuses, and at the end of the day, it came down to those four keys.
In the first article we discussed why writing with a partner is attractive as well as what factors were important in choosing your fan fiction lifemate. In our second edition, we delve more into what happens in the actual writing relationship. To some extent, getting started with a partner relies on instincts. Kind of like when your first start dating, and you both automatically turn your head to the same side while kissing. It results in bumping noses or knocking teeth. Over time you learn how your partner will react, and the awkwardness of first tries falls away.
Now that we all have you thinking about your first time, we need to remind you, this isn’t Manyafandom’s Smut 101….back on course lovelies, we are talking about co-writing here. Smut is just one potential by-product.
Some of the more die hard Breakfast at Tiffany’s readers found this out first hand when we challenged them to team up to send the story off in style. Twelve of our readers were paired up to write “crackfic” epilogues of how they thought BAT should end. They all appeared to fall into the process without complication, and out of that experience, what they gained was more than belly laughs, they established great relationships. At root, that’s really what co-writing is all about. So what happens here is both a look at logistics of writing but also in maintaining a positive working environment.
It’s easy to assume that when we say communication we are referring to how you provide feedback on the story, schedule updates, and that sort of thing. But in reality, communication runs much deeper.
One of the questions we asked the writing partners we interviewed was about the actual construction or writing process. We assumed there would be a diversity of approaches from alternating POV’s to alternating partners to writing by section, but in the end, the majority of writing partners followed a very similar pattern: alternating POV by chapter.
Ultimately, the reason behind this is that it probably creates the most seamless transition and leads to the most cohesive “voice” for the reader. In addition, it also allows the writers to be more objective in reading each others’ sections. If one writer is the authority of Bella’s voice, for example, it becomes easier to negotiate challenging dialogue.
If the piece is written in third person, merging “voice” or sections often creates a more difficult challenge. This is where similarity of writing style and communication about plot direction are essential. For Breakfast at Tiffany’s we alternated POV’s in the same chapter, and we got to a point where there was very little change needed to the “voices’ of each character because we’ve become more familiar with each other’s writing. T says there are even times when it isn’t clear who the narrator of the section is from the get go she may have a hard time telling who exactly wrote it.
In addition to determining how you will do the alternating itself, there are other logistical elements that require you to be on the same page:
1. Who starts?
2. How long should it take?
3. How much do you want to know in advance versus surprising each other?
As Billy Joel sang, honesty is such a lonely word. Constructive criticism of content is even more so, and requires a depth of trust and respect on top of the ability to say ‘I’m not so sure about that part.’ We’ve all read stories where we’ve been surprised by something, and were challenged to leave a constructive review. Take that a level deeper, and think about doing that during the writing process. It suddenly becomes a heck of a lot more personal.
It’s a daunting task, but once you figure out the balance and trust, the reward is phenomenal. Both of us truly believe that our writing is better in a tag team situation. We can push each other and evolve story lines at a level deeper than we can in an author/beta relationship. And to be honest, it has helped our author/beta relationship as well.
In human groups or networks, we know that what people can produce with others is typically better than what most individuals can create on their own. It might not feel that way when you are working with a bunch of yahoos on a school project, or waiting for members of your work team to demonstrate they were hired for something other than testing your patience. That’s because the exception to the rule is that a superior individual can outperform an average group.
In fic writing, it makes sense, then that collaborations can be so effective. Ultimately, it brings out the best in each individual writer, thus making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Very much like the concept of an assembly line, you can develop the framework of an idea. Your writing partner can build on that framework, giving it details that you never would have thought of. By melding two or more minds, creativity feeds creativity, allowing for greater depth and potential.
Sometimes, life throws you unexpected curveballs. The kinds of demands that totally block the ability to write. Are both partners committed to the collaboration to the extent that you’re willing to wait?
Unfortunately, not every fic is well met. Maybe you’ll have a very slow build in interest, or worse yet, people might not like the idea or the writing. Can you weather that kind of storm? From article one, we said that communicating expectations was key. But it’s also important to do sanity checks along the way to test your commitment level. If one person’s interest is starting to wane, it’s important to take some time to discuss it. Are you both still invested? Would a break help? Or do you need to commit to a solid day of writing to re-capture what you liked in the first place?
It’s easy to become so focused on the task that you fail to note how important “fun” is to the experience. Both our own anecdotes and those from other partners shows that’s what people remember the most from their collaborations.
A lot of people have the misconception that writing as a team is more work than writing on your own. It requires a different type of work, but if anything, it is easier than writing on your own.
We joked about the crackfic epilogues for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After the teams had submitted their epilogues, and the laughter died down we asked them about the processing of writing together. While you would expect some of the comments (the importance of feedback via constructive criticism or reviews, the challenge of evolving a plot line), two sentiments rang through loud and clear. We couldn’t imagine doing it on our own and we’ve never laughed so hard in our lives.
We’d like to end with a request. There are a number of you out there that have collaborated; either for a one shot contest or creating a multi-chapter story of your own. We’d like to hear about your experiences. Send them to email@example.com. We want to hear your thoughts on finding a hetero lifemate.
Until next time, this is H & T, signing off.