Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two Heads...

By Lisabet Sarai




I'm limited in what I can offer on this week's topic, because I've never co-authored any of my fiction. I've occasionally thought that it might be fun to try. I imagine, though, that who your partner is makes a huge difference. For instance, I couldn't create a joint work with someone who was squicked by BDSM or turned off by lesbian interactions. I don't think I'd click with an author who loved to write gritty, anonymous sexual interactions without much emotional content. I suspect that co-authors must have compatible visions in order to succeed.

At the same time, it's probably useful for the two members of the pair to have different strengths. I could use a partner who can write convincing dialogue or who can create really compelling villains. My partner could rely on me for the exotic atmosphere and sexual tension...! I've considered proposing to Garce that he and I co-author something, because I think we have complementary abilities.

My husband and I work in the same field, and we've written lots of documents together--proposals, manuals, reports, marketing brochures and the like. This is of course distinctly different from producing fiction, but there are some similarities. You need to be patient with your writing partner, not to mention polite. You need to be capable of really listening, granting equal time to an alternative perspective. And you need to be a bit humble, willing to let go of your own words and ideas and allow them to be molded and changed. There's no room for prima donnas in a writing collaboration.

The closest I've come to a fiction co-authoring relationship is working on a couple of round robin stories. In both cases, I've found the experience rather frustrating. In the first case, I started the story. I had a clear premise in my mind. I dropped hints all over the place in my initial chapter, trying to steer the authors who followed in the direction of my ideas. Instead the plot swerved off on a totally different path, and then wandered all over the place. The resulting story had lots of hot sex but was disturbingly incoherent from a plot perspective.

For the other round robin, we authors brainstormed before the story began, agreeing on characters, premise and an outline of the plot. I didn't get the chance to write my piece until late in the game. At that point, I discovered that previous authors has thrown in a bunch of complications that we'd never agreed on (such as two characters with the same name...!) I guess I can understand that no author likes to be constrained. There's a strong desire to let one's imagination run free. But I was left to do what felt like clean-up and damage control in my chapter, in an attempt to have the story make some kind of sense. And yes, I was annoyed, though I wasn't completely unhappy with the solution I devised.

An authoring collaboration, of course, is a different kettle of fish. It's not serial like a round robin. Even if the partners alternate chapters, which I gather some co-authors do, there's an opportunity during the editing process to smooth out the rough edges, resolve the inconsistencies, and polish the work to an integrated whole. The mark of a successful collaboration, I think, is the fact that even if you know the individual authors, you can't really identify who contributed what.

I'm just about to start Hunter's Light, a book co-authored by Jenna and Jude. I'm really looking forward to it. I've read single author works by each of them. It will be a treat to see what they can do when they put their heads together.

15 comments:

  1. I think Will & I have those complementary strengths of which you wrote. I just have more of them. *wink* (Kidding!)

    There are times I prefer writing solo. Short work & poetry don't lend themselves well to co-writing for me (because my partner is a wordy bastard).

    However, I think our collaborations are fuller... more well-rounded... more accessible... than my individual work.

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  2. Hi Lisabet,

    The issues you raise are one of the reasons why I tend to steer away from round robin story-telling (well, that and because no one ever asks me).

    I'm looking forward to seeing what our resident experts have to say on this week's topic.

    Best,

    Ash

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  3. Like you, the most I've ever done is round robin writing. Though I didn't find it frustrating, but intriguing. But I had nothing more than a chapter invested.

    Some day I'd like to try writing something with another author. But I think it's all about finding the right person.

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  4. Hi, Lisabet. Great examination of what collaboration requires and what it offers. (And hilarious choice of graphic to introduce the topic.)

    I've collaborated with one or more other people in various areas, from business projects to creative endeavors (including certain types of writing). Often I thought the results were optimal; on a few occasions, the whole seemed to be "less than the sum of its parts" or showed too many tepid compromises or not entirely compatible combinations, imo.

    But I've never been drawn to a collaborative approach to writing erotica. I think there's something about the intimacy of erotica that makes me want to keep a tight hold on a story until it's time to show it to the editor. That's just me, of course, and I know collaboration works wonderfully for some erotica authors.

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  5. This subject fascinates me. I wanted to co-author a YA book with Helen Madden, but both our schedules were too busy.
    Author Timothy James Beck is actually, I believe, four writers. Can you imagine? I asked Becky Cochran how it worked, and she said that they discussed the plot in detail before they began so everyone was, forgive me, on the same page.
    As in any relationship, communication and compromise must be the keys.

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  6. Lisabet,

    Good post, and I'm a little surprised you haven't co-authored yet. I think you and Garce would make a very solid team.

    I hope you enjoy Hunter's Light!

    Hugs

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  7. Hey Lisabet,

    I've found collaborating to be a wonderful thing. And not just because there's someone to blame when things go wrong...heh heh heh

    Anyway, you'll get my take on this tomorrow.

    Great post!

    Jenna

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  8. Hi, Alessia,

    I'm very aware of my weaknesses. And I suspect that working with someone else would help to temper them. I agree, however, that it would only be worthwhile in a longer work.

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  9. Hello, Ash,

    Actually, I was thinking of proposing that we Grip authors do a round robin for a week, maybe to celebrate our first anniversary... Would take some organizing, though! But it might be fun.

    Anyway, you're certain to be asked...!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  10. Hello, Nina,

    Finding the right person -- exactly the problem. Someone who's a great writer, but nevertheless is humble!

    Thanks for dropping by to share your thoughts.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  11. Greetings, Jeremy,

    When my husband and I collaborate, the result is always an improvement over what I would have written myself. Even when I think my first draft is great ;^) he always has excellent suggestions for improvements.

    I understand what you're saying about erotica. It wouldn't work unless your co-author had compatible or complementary fantasies. I've actually been thinking of suggesting a co-authored novel to a long-ago lover with whom I've shared a rich fantasy life. If I could get him to write down his notions rather than (metaphorically) whispering in my ear, I think the results might be sensational.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  12. Hi, Kathleen,

    If you and Helen ever get together on a book--watch out world! Though I don't think a YA novel would necessarily be making the most of your considerable talents.

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  13. Hello, Jude,

    I've got so many pots on the stove right now, I don't want to start a collaboration, too, but maybe Garce and I should talk about it for the future. What do you say, Chris?

    Best,
    Lisabet

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  14. Hi, Jenna,

    I'm REALLY looking forward to your post. Something authoritative on the subject!

    Cheers,
    Lisabet

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  15. Hi Lisabet!

    I had no idea you;d thought about collaborating on a book. I think that could be really interesting. I'm totally open to it once we get that story collection out the door. Get back to me on this when you think you;re ready to experiment with it. Or if you quietly change your mind on it, I'll accept the embarrassed cough and refrain from bringing it up. But for the record I think that could be very cool.

    Garce

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