Collaborative novel writing
Posted on January 17, 2013 (Subscribe to Blog)
Writing a novel is hard work. Writing a novel in collaboration with another author is something else entirely. Splitting the work does not necessarily make it easier and quicker to get that book written! But if you're collaborating with the right author, it can be a very interesting and rewarding experience.
So Brian Clopper and I are three quarters of the way through our first collaborative novel, Fractured, and looking to finish the first draft in the next week. How's it going? Let's ask myself some questions...
What the heck is the novel about anyway?
It's a sci-fi/fantasy mash-up. My character resides in a futuristic sci-fi world ("the city"), and Brian's lives at the far end of the land in a simpler, magical kingdom ("the enclaves"). My character Kyle, and Brian's character Logan, both end up in the vast area between, known as the Ruins or Broken Lands, and eventually cross paths. That's all I'm prepared to say at this moment!
The entire novel is written with alternating chapters, so we're each able to write our stories as separate mini-novels, but when merged together, the reader gets to enjoy a complete, intertwined story.
Has the novel's plot gone the way you both intended, or has it veered wildly off course?
I'm happy to say it's gone exactly as intended. We had plotted the story beforehand, writing a brief paragraph per chapter to explain what will happen where and when. Sure, some of the details have evolved, including some background history stuff, but overall it's the same story we planned from the beginning. The biggest change is the length. The first part of the novel was intended as four chapters each, after which the real journey would begin. But it quickly became six chapters each, and the novel grew.
Then our characters got so involved in the journey itself that we added to those chapters as well. And the novel grew. We've now written the crossover section and are on the final leg of the journey to each other's world.
Wait. What? Your characters are swapping places?
Yes indeed. My sci-fi character Kyle ends up in Logan's enclave, and vice versa. How will they deal with this complete switcheroo? More importantly, how will the two authors deal with a world created by the other? Well, so far, so good. We're respectful of each other's work to the point that yesterday Brian asked me what my road-cleaning droid looked like, and I sent him a picture and some basic notes that I had stored in my head. In turn, I asked him how big his canyon clacker monsters are, and what Glider-spirits look like.
This is an interesting exercise, and a little scary in places. Up until our character crossed places, we were involved in our own journeys in our own halves of the world, and could invent and create whatever we wanted within the rules of the game. Now we're feeling our way through territory created by the other, and for that we need to read the other's work very carefully and ask for clarification where necessary. And if one of us gets something wrong, it's up to the other to say so. For instance, in one place I described long grass, and Brian said, "No, actually it's short grass just there." Hey, it was his vision, and he'd actually written short grass, so I'm happy to go with it.
Likewise, Brian asked me if a certain campsite is to the north of the lake, and I confirmed that it was. Honestly, it might have been weird to imagine one thing and have Brian write something entirely different. This attention to tiny details is important – but on the other hand, sometimes it really doesn't matter. Unless there's a direct conflict in the plot or continuity, or it's something we're particularly hung up on, then it's okay for the other author to take liberties.
What's this 'crossover' scene you mentioned?
It's where the two characters cross paths. Up until this point, we've timed our separate threads so that they come together at an exact time on the third day. After they split and continue their journeys, the timing is again planned so that the climax of the novel ends at the exact same moment.
The entire novel is written with alternating chapters, but the crossover chapter involves both characters at once, so we alternated scenes within that single chapter. It's a long chapter compared to the others, but it works.
How is it to work with another author?
I can't speak for other authors because this is my first collaboration, but I've found that it's very easy working with Brian. We appear to be on the exact same wavelength, so conversations easily yield ideas that we both like. Being respectful and ready to compromise is the key, I think. We haven't really had to do any major compromising, but there are occasions when one or both has had to adjust something. I planned to have my character wake up at dawn in Chapter 34, but Brian's story continued at nighttime in Chapter 35. From the reader's point of view, it would have been weird to have a morning scene and then go back to night again. So I adjusted my thinking slightly and will now write Chapter 36 as a continued nighttime scene rather than a morning scene. No big deal.
Brian writes faster than me (or he's had more time to write), so I've been struggling to keep up. On the other hand, I think my pieces are slightly more polished, so perhaps I'll have less editing to do. We've sent a ton of emails back and forth during this process, most of them quick questions and answers – about 55 emails each through January so far.
The way we're doing this collaboration is not the same way that others will do it. It's just the way that works for us. We planned and plotted for three months, then set aside January to "knock it out." This has worked well. I don't think it would work anywhere near as well if we wrote this on and off for a year.
So is it nearly finished? Will it be published soon?
No. It's true that we're three quarters of the way through the book, and will finish in the next week, but that's just a first draft. Do you think it'll be ready to publish right away? No sirree! We have a lot of editing and cleaning up to do, both individually and as a whole. The editing process itself will be interesting. I'll carefully go through mine and edit as I go, trying to add in or alter details based on what Brian wrote. And he'll do the same. Then we'll probably read the entire thing again as a whole and both make line edits wherever we spot them, then correct our own pieces afterward. Then we'll probably put it out to proofreaders, etc.
We're looking to publish in May or something like that. And it will be a free book, available to all from our websites, readable on the screen, on devices, and maybe even in print (at cost).
Fascinating! My screenplay collaborations were written with a writer friend who shares the same comedy DNA with me, meaning we were able to shorthand a lot of references we used to pitch ideas, story points and gags to each other. We were also in the same room as we wrote so it's interesting to hear how you guys are pulling it off being so many miles apart.
Ah, distance is no problem. In fact, writing in the same room as somebody else would not work at all. I don't think that's even possible for an author, is it? :-p
Not for this author! Funny how common it is in television and film, though.
Wow, I love this post! It's interesting to see your take on the process. I have been so excited by where the novel is going and continue to be amazed at the wealth of imagination and ingenuity in each of the stories. There are occurrences you pick up on and embellish that makes it a little scary in terms of the synchronicity and proper fit of our writing efforts.
Yes, I did write pretty quickly. I was tracked out for the bulk of the project and found myself carving out time in the oddest places so I could hop into the world we created. You (Keith) did the same. I received many e-mails from you that were dated past midnight.
I am sure the editing and revising stage will yield an even more polished piece and can't wait to see reader reaction to the published final version.
I'm super excited to read this novel when you guys are finished with it. I attempted something similar with a friend a while back but it didn't turn out very well. I'm glad you're having better luck with it!
Brian, some of my best stuff is written after midnight. :-) It's the uninterrupted silence, you know. The only problem is, I go to bed with my brain still buzzing.
Sorry but interested to hear about your collaboration experience, Joseph. What went wrong?
Thanks for sharing this! I love reading about the process the two of you have used to collaborate. Producing a work with another writer is a topic of interest to me that I'm exploring. It isn't something I've tried before but, with the right person, sounds like a lot of fun. I look forward to hearing more of your progress and reading the finished product. Happy Writing~Jeff