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.