Co-Authoring: It Ain’t For Sissies – Part Two

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Now for the nitty gritty of how to co-author.

In order to co-author, you need some sort of operating agreement, be it written or un-written.  You should agree on the levels of commitment. Agree on how you’ll handle the process. Agree to communicate. Then, touch base with this agreement regularly. Are things still working? If not, why? Be honest with each other without fear of animosity.  

More to that point, just talk! Be friendly and supportive. Your co-author will need to hug you when you feel like your writing sucks and kick your a$$ when you’re slacking.  In turn, you should do the same. Brit and I have written together, for fun then profit, for almost 4 years now. You go through a lot in 4 yrs. Co-authors have to be understanding, but sometimes firm. If your co-author is a friend, it helps ease communication and smoothes out the edges.

So, what are the basic steps to co-authoring? Ours look something like this:

Step 1: One of us emails the other with an idea in the form of something like, “What if we had two characters that ___, who  are ____, and their problems are ____?”

Step 2: A LOT of back and forth brainstorming and spit balling. This is our favorite part. We talk out character sketch, motivations, back story, conflict, etc.  We email, we text, we skype call and flail like fools. This part is only slightly less time consuming than drafting. It’s vital that we are both on the same page before we begin. We develop our characters fully and creativity flows. We have word documents on each character for referral.

Step 3: We work out a plot. Oddly, it’s not necessarily that detailed. Some scenes are very detailed, others…eh. We know each other well enough that we can put down the main plot points and let whoever tackles that scene first, play around with it. Our Big Black Moment is often a point that just says, “Big Black Moment that touches on this, this and this as their issues we’ve already brought up…and it rips their hearts out.” We’ve also worked on plot and had it further develop each character (as per usual in the creative process.

Step 4: We decide who will write what scene first OR we write back and forth via email, tackling the same scene a few paragraphs at a time. Pivotal scenes we handle this way, like the BBM. We know what would crush each character. We’ve worked up to this moment, so we chat about it and then write back and forth, letting the painful moment fly, and feeding off what the other is writing as well. Then we copy and paste these paragraphs onto the manuscript and tweak it as needed so it flows and works in well with the pacing.

Step 5: We each go over what the other person has written. First a chapter or scene at a time, and then again at the end, both taking a read through of the full manuscript to make sure it’s as seamless as possible.

Step 6: Edits and Work from publisher is tackled together. We each take a crack at edits. For any big changes, we collaborate. For smaller, line edits and fixes, we split the book up to be fair. For blurbs and marketing, we work on those forms together. It’s actually a lot more fun to do publisher homework and write a synopsis with a friend.

That is how we co-write! It’s not rocket surgery, but you definitely want a partner you know and trust and a plan.  Finally, if you do decide to co-author a project, don’t forget to have fun! Those “Eureka!” moments are twice as awesome with a friend. As a matter of fact, we had one last night in regards to plot and character. It was maaaagic!Also, hilarious things can happen when you co-write. There’s a story about a pair of shoes our hero wore before a particularly smoking hot sex scene. I wrote him slipping off the shoes as they got frisky in the kitchen. Brit wrote them coming off again, later, when they got nakies in the bedroom.  The shoes were off, the shoes were on, and then they were off again. They were the mysterious reappearing sex shoes and we laugh about it to this day.

Writing can be isolating, especially when all the people around you are fictional. Co-authoring, even if just on the side, is another way to keep connected, continue to stretch your writing muscle, and have fun.

Write on!

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