Should You Try Collaborative Writing?
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Stephen King and Peter Straub. What do the pairings have in common? Collaboration. Pratchett and Gaiman joined forces to write Good Omens. King and Straub joined forces to write The Talisman and its sequel Black House. All three of the books were bestsellers and were, by and large, critically well-received. However, the collaborations begged a couple of questions: Why would such literary powerhouses decide to co-author books, and should mere mortals also give it a go?
Several interviews answered the first question, but what about the second? Should you as an aspiring writer try your hand at collaborative fiction?
That’s the short and sweet answer. Now, would you like to know why?
Collaborative writing is a great exercise that will challenge you and help you develop your writing skills.
For starters, you’ll learn that ego has no place in writing. The whole idea is to work with someone else. You have to communicate, listen, compromise, share, and adapt. You have to admit that sometimes your partner’s ideas are better than your own. You’ll find that your partner’s writing style is better suited to certain aspects of the story. You have to share characters; while you see the protagonist going in one direction, your co-author may have something different in mind. When you butt heads, you have to find solutions that are for the good of the story.
You will also have to adapt your writing style to give the story a sense of continuity. That’s not to say you have to completely suppress your voice, but you may find that you have to tone it down (or up) or give it a twist to make the story work properly.
You will also find inspiration, motivation, and support in the collaborative relationship, especially if you’re working with a more experienced writer.
All in all, the lessons you learn will prove invaluable when it comes to writing solo.
2 Types of collaboration
- The 60:40
You might have a great idea for a story, but you’re not sure what to do with it. You can work with another author to flesh out the story, develop the characters, and build on the plot. You can brainstorm additional ideas and watch your story take interesting and exciting tangents.
This can set the tone for the collaboration. You can do the actual writing, while your partner provides creative input. Your partner is actively involved in almost every aspect of the work, but you get to own the style. In numbers, it would be like you own the story 60:40.
- Equal share
Another option is to pick a partner beforehand and brainstorm ideas from the get-go. You each have equal share in the story, equal emotional investment, equal creative input – equal everything.
In this type of collaboration, you could each own a set of characters. You’re largely responsible for developing those characters and giving them distinctive voices, so long as they develop in line with the story and you don’t take them in a new direction that throws your partner for a loop.
This is why constant communication is vital.
Another option is to divvy up the chapters. You could, for example, write alternating chapters. This could work if you write the chapters from different characters’ points of view. Each chapter has a distinct voice without detracting from the story’s continuity.
Once again, communication is vital.
How to actually do it?
Technology gives you several options.
You could, for example, email each other back and forth, either using attachments or typing text straight into the body of the email. Anna, of the blog Too Many Annas, recommends Google Documents because of its ability to support multiple users simultaneously, which facilitates real-time collaboration.
Instant messaging services also work well, especially when discussing the finer points of a story, or suggesting some changes.
James Chartrand also suggests using IM, but she recommends it for chat-based role-playing. During the process, each person writes only while in character. At the end, all of the text is copied and pasted and edited and it’s done. Other modern spins on collaborative writing, according to Chartrand, include forum posting and community blogging.
There are wikinovels and hypertext fiction. WIkinovels functions in the same way as any other wiki project, while hypertext fiction uses hypertext links that take readers to different parts of the story, creating a non-linear reading experience. Some wikis give you the option to write one word, one sentence, or one paragraph at a time.
It doesn’t end there
If you’re not sure who to partner with, if you’re not sure of the whole process in general, there are several apps and websites that let you explore collaboration at your own pace. For example:
Google Docs Demo: Masters Edition allows you to collaborate in ‘real-time’ with famous authors like Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickenson, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Inkvite is an iPhone app that allows you to invite three other people to collaborate on a story (you can choose between 12 genres). At the end, you can publish it to Library, where it is available to anyone who cares to read it. Private settings are also an option, if you’re shy.
Protagonize and StoryMash are collaborative creating writing communities which allow you to work with a host of authors. Each has unique features that will appeal to different writers, so vet them carefully before you leap in.
Many people consider writing to be a solitary profession, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you’re starting out and still trying to find your voice and make your mark, collaborating with others can be a very good idea, as the opportunities to learn from the experience, find mentors, and develop your skills are virtually endless.
Written by Sandy Cosser
Image credit: Michael Mandiberg (mandiberg), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr