ON COLLABORATIVE WRITING
Posted on January 18, 2013
You see novels with coauthors all the time. In fact, my earliest exposure to this had to be reading the collaborations of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes (I'm talking about you, Legacy of Heorot). I also burned through a ton of the books that Piers Anthony co-authored. It always made me wonder just exactly how the duties of constructing a novel were divvied up. What follows are some reflections on my recent collaboration with the esteemed Keith Robinson. As you'll see, I think our collaboration will stand out as something truly innovative in the world of authorial tit-for-tat.
What drove you to collaborate?
Keith and I have become good friends over the years after I stumbled across his Island of Fog book being favorably mentioned on Piers Anthony's website. I read it, found it would make a great read for my class and we poured over it in class. We then sent him a stack of letters and I included two of my earlier works of writing just to show him I also dabbled in writing. Keith was bowled over by the letters and enjoyed my work. One of us offered to proof the other's next book, I think, and then we've been working to support each other as fellow authors ever since. The man should get a medal or trophy for the number of my books he beta read this past year alone. Not to mention his gracious time spent on cover design and webpage help. I can't praise his fortitude, creativity and congeniality enough. And my daughter adores his British accent.
What difficulties did you anticipate and how did you overcome them?I
am an introvert, preferring to stay home more than running out to social engagements. Chatting it up drains me. I like it afterward, but have always found social interaction hard. I thought it would be difficult to overcome this. Keith, who is a patient, easy-going person, made that easy. We started discussing the story in emails, then progressed to plotting over the phone. We spent three months figuring out the direction and format of the story.
When it comes to teaming up, I always get nervous that the other person won't be able to deliver, that they will lose interest and not persevere. That happened often in college with group projects and I never liked that feeling. Part of the reason I enjoy self-publishing is that it limits the number of people in the process, making it more likely to be completed and not drawn out or abandoned. With Keith, I soon realized that he was just as ambitious and driven. His focus and detail-minded nature are wonders to behold.
From the emails and calls, we decided to fashion a story where our characters occupy opposite realms on the same large land mass. Keith took on the sci-fi realm (Apparati) and I tackled a fantasy world (Apparata). Between the two distinct cultures we created a wasteland called the Ruins and the Broken Lands respectively. Our characters (Keith had Kyle and I had Logan)were thrust into that environment and each endured a journey, crossing paths about two-thirds of the way through the adventure. The chapters leading up to the crossover were alternating glimpses of each of our stories. The crossover is rife with revelation and peril. That chapter was written by both of us in twelve sections of volleying back and forth with the narrative. After the crossover, we followed our characters into the opposite environment with the stakes immensely high. They rushed to a confrontation that would have ramifications for both worlds. Keith asked that we write a brief outline of our chapters. This forced me to think about my story more as I had another author looking at it to steer his narrative and vice versa. Keith's summaries were always more detailed. I have always been more seat-of-the-pants in my writing, keeping a lot of my ideas rolling around in my head until the story hones in on the aspects I need to introduce. With the outline, I still had that freedom and there were plot points and setting details that erupted into the story as we wrote – the canyon clackers and kalibacks on my end and I believe the inclusion of a surprising deadbeat named Archie in Keith's.
We marked January 1st on our calendars as our start date. He got a leap on me in the process, writing three chapters before I even started on January 3rd. But I think I soon accounted for myself with my productivity.
What's been the most pleasant aspect of the project?
Being able to examine the inner workings of another author – I truly got so many insights into writing by watching Keith work his magic. His process is very deliberate and well-thought out, but never stifling to his creativity.
Troubleshooting plot details – We sent so many emails asking for clarification, pointing out missteps and praising lovely moments of creativity and synchronicity. Compromise was easy and we both were fast to cop to an idea that wasn't worthwhile.
The sheer excitement of racing to write – I woke up eager to write and wrote more than I ever had, utilizing time to its fullest. I routinely produced about 1000 words every hour. Now the result was rougher and required a second look later that day, but I posted it just the same to Keith. Later, I poured over a print out and used a pen to edit. I am a bit old-fashioned that way, finding I catch more from a paper in front of me than on a screen. I also jumped to pour over any new chapter Keith posted, squirreling away plot nuggets that I would use later.
What creative details did you mine from Keith's story arc?
He introduced a pivotal character named Archie that caused his character to look at the ruins in a new light. I took their meeting and the back story of Archie having a family and wedged it into a scene that moved Logan to a key point in his development and equipped him with an essential prop that causes him to be more proactive. Also, so much of the Tower, its purpose and appearances, was from Keith. It helped me fashion my character's interactions with that significant structure. Finally, as I write the last few chapters, being able to interact in his society and play by his rules is a ton of fun. There were tidbits about Doctor Pollard and Maybor Baynor that Keith seeded in his earlier chapters that I took and germinated, knowing he was doing the same on his end with Kyle and the characters in his village.
What attracted you to the format of the book?
Being able to write two stories that intersected and then conclude by retracing the other's steps in a brave, new world, is unique. I can't recall seeing it done before. It wasn't us writing the chapters together, reworking each others sentences endlessly. I feared it would be that way, but that didn't happen. Now I am realistic that we will have to get our hands dirty in the editing stage, but the first run through, being able to seek your own relative destiny with your characters, allowed both of use to more at dizzying speeds.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer?
Momentum has a profound effect on your stories. I was fortunate to be tracked out for three weeks in January, since I teach at a year-round school, and could write for an hour in the morning and sometimes two hours later in the day. It allowed me to complete up to two chapters a day. When I am back teaching, I usually muster a chapter a week. Now that I know I can push myself more, I am setting the bar at two chapters a week when I'm back in the classroom. We'll see how that goes. The concentrated writing time and the pressure of pushing each other to keep pace, made me work harder. We also agreed that chapters should be between 1200 to 3000 words and that also made them more attainable. I know Keith typically had worked with writing 3,000-5,000 words in the chapters of his Island of Fog series and was pleased with how fast the shorter chapters came into being.
I also joked with Keith that we should make it an annual event, kicking off every January with a new collaboration. I also toyed with equating January to NANOWRIMO, the November event where authors try to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. January could be the month pairs of writers collaborate and try to write a 60,000 word book. Judging from the stellar results Keith and I are getting with Fractured, it can be done. Just need a fun acronym.
When will Fractured be released?
We will be done the first draft in January. We plan to let it sit for a month then look over our own sections in March and then look at the book as a whole in that same month. I'd love to see beta readers look at it in April and then put it out there in May. The book will be absolutely free if you get it at our site or any other place online. The print version will be offered at cost. I really think the unique format of the book will garner attention for it and the readers will stay for the intense character study and dynamic worlds we've concocted.