Thursday, June 25, 2009

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

Forget the Four C’s that all the jewelry stores hype. A good co-writing relationship also has 4 C’s, but it’s a heck of a lot less expensive than a diamond.
  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Commitment
  • 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.


First and foremost is communication (T feels like she could write a dissertation on this subject. Oh wait, she already has) (H’s note to T – your doctorate is showing, Professor). Communication is obviously a very broad topic, and often becomes a catch all when people refer to success or failure in relationships. We’re going to be talking more specifically about the relational aspects of communication including conflict management in our next article, so this one focuses more on logistics and the foundation.

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.
It’s about how you outline the thought; craft the characters; even enhance the story. Without honest and effective communication, a story can go directions where one author might be uncomfortable.

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?
o Sometimes, this will be obvious. The plot is best illustrated by beginning the story or a section with a particular POV. For us, there were times when it was just preference or an idea, or it was someone’s “turn.” And truth be told, we did flip a coin once.

2. How long should it take?
o If you’ve developed a rough outline, you should know approximately how many chapters you will have. Do you have a target for when you will complete your fic? How often will you update? When someone sends a section or a chapter to the other author, what kind of turn around should be expected?

3. How much do you want to know in advance versus surprising each other?
o We’ve said before that in the beginning, we were high on the drug of anticipation. The story evolved because we didn’t’ know what was coming next from the other person. On the other hand, when we got deeper into the plot, we had to discuss the specifics more so that it was in alignment with character development and because more of the plot was already on the table.

4. Revisions
o Emibella has been doing a style series and has show mark up’s of how revisions go. Communication is key in the revision process. This is about voice consistency, plot coherency, and grammatical competency (We’re really working the C’s, and no, we don’t mean Carlisle).

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.

You need to be able to tell that person, “No, I don’t like that” or “Maybe we should do it this way” without fear of hurting their feelings. You need to be 100% happy with your finished product, and the only way to ensure that is to talk about it and make it happen.

A few times we would have minor disagreements on how a particular plot line should go, but we resolved them pretty quickly by just talking it out. If one of us wrote something in a chapter concerning someone else's main character, we would just defer to their suggestions on how they would want their character to act since they knew them best.

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.


According to (the world’s most credible source), a system is an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole. This encompasses anything from an auto making factory, to a biological function to a human relationship. Systems theory illustrates the fabulous concept of synergy—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It makes total sense if you’re building a car.
We’d all much rather have the final product than just an engine, but what does it mean for a collaboration?

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.

I know I can get the help I need to get back on track if I get stuck, just as Kino knows the same.

Sometimes you have to meet in the middle for the best result to happen, even if you don’t want to.

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.


In the first article, we discussed what it takes to find someone who is the perfect match. So you find that life mate, but how committed are you to seeing it through good times and bad? We discussed how life demands, time zones, and divergent interests can create difficulties in working with a partner. Those are all things you can plan around to an extent.

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?

This is an easy one. Tami got pregnant about halfway through the writing of Going for the Gold and while it would naturally have some impact on the story, Tami had a lot more difficult pregnancy than anyone was anticipating. She was really very sick through most of it, and she tried to write through it, like the trooper she was, but there were definitely some delays. Our readers were very patient, for the most part, and I am happy to say that Tami did have her baby and everything is great.

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?

Comic Relief

Let’s be honest, the potential for great writing isn’t the reason most people start collaborating. When we asked writers about the reasons for collaborating or favorite experiences, laughter and how much they liked their partner came up time and time again. We couldn’t agree more. There’s no greater reason to collaborate with someone than the fact that at the end of the day, it’s fun.

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.

We laugh ourselves silly at our own writing when we edit our chapters. Like loud, belly aching laughter. And we're proud of it!

We got together for lunch at Jack in the Box and fleshed out the meat of the story over food. There was a lot of note taking and laughter and “OOH! That’s perfect …” or “Maybe we could do it this way …” I’m sure the other patrons thought we were nuts. Two mid-twenty something girls should have that much fun in public more often.

I was reading one of her stories on and Aly mentioned in an update that she was looking for a beta. I pm'ed her that I would like to do it so we started emailing back and forth. One weekend we were talking about how hot it was where we lived and it sort of played out that we live in the same town, are about the same age, both went to the same college, and worked for similar companies. It was crazy! No wonder we get along so well, we're practically clones! hahaha! But we met up and chatted and get along really well. And she took me to the place with the best smoked brisket in the f'ing world. So, I have to say she's one of my favorite people!

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 We want to hear your thoughts on finding a hetero lifemate.

Until next time, this is H & T, signing off.


  1. Now, if I only had someone with whom I could write... Bueller? Frye?

    Thanks for sharing this with us, ladies! :) I love hearing about how this works with the "couples" out there.

  2. Thanks H and T.
    That was such a fun read. And even more so, it was interesting to see that me and kino aren't the only ones who write the way we do.
    Can't wait for the next installment :)

  3. Should have known ficwife would beat me to the comments. I really enjoyed this article; hearing stories from other authors is always so interesting.


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