5 Things I’ve Learned From Co-Writing a Novel

Well, Squiders, that novel I’ve been working on isn’t exactly done and off to the editor like I hoped, but it’s very close, and I’m kind of basking in the accomplishment of completion even though we’re not quite there yet. So, in celebration, here’s some things I’ve learned from co-writing a novel.

(It should probably said that I’ve co-written novels before, informal things mostly done for fun that might never get anywhere. This is a completely different animal.)

1. Co-writing is hard
At first glance, it seems like it should be easier. You only have to write half the words, right? Score! A full novel for half the work! But you have to make sure your half makes sense with your partner’s half (or however you’ve got it broken down), that you’ve got similar themes for the entire work, and that the whole thing feels cohesive, as opposed to two people writing two disparate stores.

2. Communication is essential
My partner (the wondrous Siri Paulson) and I talk all the time. We send each other lengthy emails discussing plot points, coordination, characterization, etc. We tweet each other quick notes (and to ask if the other is in the manuscript before we mess around too much). We have face-to-face meetings over Google Hangouts to hash out worldbuilding, discuss key scenes, and occasionally write important scenes together. We chat in IRC. We leave notes in document. We are everywhere. But if we weren’t, well, see point 1 about cohesiveness and whatnot. We were in the same time zone over Christmas and it was amazing.

3. You can’t futz worldbuilding
Because of the nature of the story Siri and I have put together, we essentially had to do worldbuilding for two very different places. She took the lead on one, I took the lead on the other, but we needed to understand both and also understand how the two fit together. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes my worldbuilding can be a little underdeveloped on a first draft. You can’t do that here, though. Part of it also comes from the genre and type of story, however. My previous co-writing jaunts have been contemporary fiction with very few, if any, fantastical elements. This is high fantasy bordering on science fantasy. Before, questions like “Wait, how do the monsters maintain the pocket dimension?” have never come up.

4.Everyone writes differently
Before we started this, I would have guessed that Siri and I had near identical writing processes. We’ve been writer friends for almost a decade now, so we’ve had plenty of conversations about writing and we’ve watched each other go through numerous projects, long and short. We tend to have a similar style and write about similar topics. We even, a bit creepily, look quite a bit alike.

I have now learned, however, that our processes differ quite a bit. Siri writes detailed outlines and then goes back and fleshes the scenes out, leaving herself (and me) lots of notes as well as alternatives to the current scene. I write fully fleshed out scenes, taking care to try and get as close to a finished product as I can at first go by outlining before I start. She outlines chronologically but doesn’t flesh out in order necessarily. I prefer to go chronologically at all times.

I think this was a bit of a surprise on both of our counts. But we figured it out. I even wrote a few scenes out of order in the end.

5. Writing with someone else has a lot of perks
This is the first book of what will hopefully be a multi-author shared world. Siri and I inherited the first book because Erin and KD had other projects they were already working on. We took the shared world brainstorming and got to turn that into a story. And it’s been a lot of fun. Two heads are better than one, as they say. We got to bounce ideas off each other, and had a partner to give their opinion when a plot point on one side’s arc wasn’t working. We got to build off each other’s characters and worldbuilding. And I think we’ve been able to come up with something super awesome because of it.

Oh, and as a bonus:

GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME
Siri and I got the novel assignment at the very end of April and were supposed to have the story done by the end of the year. This has proven to be not nearly enough time due to the level of coordination necessary between the two of us. (Also, life events happened.) This is the first time we’ve tried something like this, and eight months seemed like a long time back then. Now we know better. And moving forward, I shall try to keep in mind that new types of projects should always be given more leeway on timing because it takes a while to figure out how things work. I think it took Siri and I a good 2-3 months to really get going–it took us a while to hash out characters, and then we each wrote a beginning, both of which were thrown out completely, though they really helped us establish what we were looking for and how we would work going forward. Another month or two would have been excellent. If you’re thinking about trying something similar, I’d recommend thinking about how long it would take you to do something on your own, and then add half that time again.

Woo! So close! And I’m excited to see what the editor thinks when she gets it.

How’s your 2016 going thus far, Squiders? Mine’s pretty awesome except I got pink eye from somewhere.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting way to work. Could be extra fun, could be disaster. It depends on the co-authors. Sorry about your eye.

    Reply

    • Yeah, definitely depends on the people involved. Luckily, Siri and I have fairly compatible personalities and we’ve been able to work through difficulties.

      I’ve turned the corner on the eye, finally. Should be gone by tomorrow.

      Reply

  2. […] For added fun, go read Kit’s take on the process of co-writing this novel. […]

    Reply

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