Writing with a Partner – A Discussion on Collaborative Writing

Once upon a time, I read Sorcery and Cecilia by the lovely Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  If you haven’t read this, you are missing out.  It is marvelous.

It’s an epistolary novel, meaning each person writes letters as their characters and there is no plotting with each other.

Anyway, I got to thinking that I would like to write with someone else.  At first, I tried epistolaries myself.  The first got, oh, four letters in.  We were writing and sending real letters through the mail.  On one hand, real mail!  On the other hand, it was slow and then you didn’t have a copy of what you’d written.  Fail.

Second attempt went better.  A friend and I wrote through private messages to each other on a writing community.  We got maybe 20K words in before someone hacked the forum and we lost 10-12 letters.  Pros: Could get through several letters in a day, could see both sides of the conversation.  We didn’t feel like trying to rewrite so many letters, so we let the project die and I later re-wrote the entire story by myself.

At this point, I came to a revelation.  I was not Patricia Wrede.  My friends were not Caroline Stevermer.  The likelihood of us somehow managing to write a cohesive story through letters without talking to each other was probably never going to happen.  With the above example, I remember having a plot line in my head and trying to steer my partner to it through the letters, but it was like herding landsquid.  (Landsquid hate being herded and they are grumpy.  I do not recommend trying.)  We were on different pages and there was no way to say “I want to go this direction” without breaking the epistolary rules.

So, time to try something else.

A few months later, mid-2007 or so, Script Frenzy launched.  I’d had never written a screenplay but I thought it might be fun, so I recruited a writing friend to work on it with me.  It proved to be a rewarding experience, and we’ve been writing on and off together since.  (Not on screenplays, though.  That went in a drawer and hasn’t come out since.)

We’ve written a variety of ways – epistolary (though true plottiness still eludes me), alternating character viewpoints with each of us writing one character, and a neutral viewpoint that we both wrote.

While I still prefer to write alone on most projects, I’ve found this to be a rewarding experience.  When we get stuck, we can bounce ideas off each other.  We can catch POV errors and typoes for each other.  We can challenge each other to new heights.  (Plus she always lets me write the horribly embarrassing parts. ♥)

Not to say it always goes smoothly.  When something goes wrong in one person’s life we’re both in limbo.  We’ve gotten into fights about story direction, character issues, plot holes.   Luckily we’re fairly compatible so even after we’ve had to take a step back we can usually work out some sort of compromise and move forward.

Overall, I would say that the bonuses of working collaboratively outweigh the negative.

Have you written with a partner?  Would you do it again?

Discuss how interest in it started, how things have gone, etc.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by AM on 2011/01/12 at 4:40 PM

    LANDSQUID!!

    That is all. >:D

    Reply

  2. I love that you can do this. I did it once, but I wasn’t all that happy with the story that resulted, and I haven’t tried it again.

    Reply

  3. Posted by wonderer on 2011/01/13 at 9:15 AM

    I wrote a screenplay with my SO years ago. We came up with the idea together. I still remember where we were at the time — we walked across a bridge and then went to a coffee shop to finish hashing out the plan. IIRC he wrote the first draft and sent it to me, then I changed up a lot of things and sent it back, and so on.

    It was an exciting and rewarding experience, but after about six drafts we decided that the project sucked in a way that could not be fixed (likely due to our inexperience with scriptwriting). We briefly tried it as a novel, but by then the shine was off the project and we never made it beyond a couple of chapters. RIP, “Little Sister”.

    We haven’t tried another collaborative project since, but we’re both still writing, and we do a lot of idea-bouncing about our respective stories.

    Reply

  4. Guilty as charged on the embarrassing parts.

    I enjoy writing with a partner. It’s always interesting to see how characters grow and change. It has certainly helped me to know a lot more about one of my main characters. It stretches me to know characters better and to really think about how they develop. It can be a challenge style-wise as well.

    I’ve written some fanfiction, some epistolary stories, historical fantasy, camp stories and general mayhem with different writing partners. The real life taking over aspect is difficult. One of my collaborative stories has been stalled for months. One fanfiction piece I wrote years ago with a friend died because we were too busy and I was off at college.

    Sometimes I’ve made a collaborative writing project too big and then it ended because we were all stuck waiting and couldn’t figure out how to write the big sequence.

    In general, I have a lot of fun with it. I am also now reminded that owe a piece on a short I was supposed to be working on.

    What should we do with that screenplay anyways?

    Reply

    • I think the screenplay is decent, but I have no knowledge on what to do with it, should we want to edit and move forward. Soooo…I don’t know? 😛

      Reply

  5. I would *love* to write with a partner, but I’ve never found anyone with whom styles mesh–or when I *do*, they never want to make time for it.

    It’s quite frustrating.

    Reply

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