Writing With Others

Writing, for the most part, is a solitary activity. Sure, there’s Twitter and writing groups, but at the end of the day it’s usually just you, alone with your imagination. There are times though, that we write with others. Co-writing can be incredibly rewarding and insanely frustrating. Like everything with writing, there is no one way to do it.

Photo by Miri

Growing up, in my early days on the Interwebs, I belonged to several written RPG sites. One of the things you learn from that type of interaction is how to passably write someone else’s character. If you can’t manage that skill, you’re either faced with incredibly short posts where you’re constantly waiting for the other person to respond, or backlash from using their character in a way they do not like. One way to develop that ability was to start with those super short posts. Another is to work things out “in person” before the post with another player. A friend and I would meet on ICQ (wow, that was ages ago) and go back and forth to figure out what was going to happen. Then one of us would copy everything out and embellish before posting. This resulted in some very long posts, and a good sense of how the other person’s character would respond to a given situation.

When it came to writing with this person later, we did much the same. We sat down and discussed the characters and walked through bits of the story, one of us taking notes to type up later. Other times, one of us would start the story and when we got stuck, would pass it to the next person (for an example of this “pass the stick” type story telling, check out the Once Upon a Time episode of the Tabletop show on YouTube). As drafts progressed we would each read over what the other had written and make changes before we picked up. Sometimes you work on a chapter by chapter basis, passing it to the other person when you hit that stopping point.

Other times, each of you makes a character to focus on, and write the parts where that character is key, or their perspective is being followed. This can add some disconnect between the two characters, and if that different feel is not what you’re looking for, you should definitely have both writers go through each other’s section to help being the sections together. One of the big challenges is making it feel like one work at the end and not two separate stories.

With a recent project, the other writer and I are slowly hashing out the details and making an outline. We settled on a basic premise, then sorted out characters and places (because talking back and forth about “character A” can get confusing, and names are easy enough to change later). We’ll decide where to go from there, but probably whoever is feeling most inspired will start.

So what kind of problems can you run into when writing with another person? Well, really any of the problems that come up in any relationship on top of the typical writing problems. There will be times you disagree; sometimes about small things and sometimes about major plot points you can’t progress past until you agree. There will be deadline clashes as you learn that you write at different speeds and when someone loses steam to dreaded “writer’s block” or life throwing complications. When it comes time to edit, you will both have different darlings you won’t want to kill. There will be times you’re tempted to bargain, “leave my bit here in and we won’t cut that bit there of yours” but you must focus on what is best for the story. It is a good plan to know ahead of time what your plans are for the story as well. Is it just for fun? Are you submitting it somewhere with guidelines to follow? Are you self-publishing it and how are you handling that? If you’re creating a new world, are you allowed to use it later in your own works? Sorting this out ahead of time can save on heartache later.

So why write with someone else? For one, it can be really fun exploring ideas together. You’ll be able to see things from another perspective and grow for your own writing. Perhaps you have trouble with one aspect, such as dialogue, but thrive at another, and your partner has the opposite problem. There is always more to learn. There is a great deal of joy in sharing the process with someone, and in seeing that final creation that you made together. It can make for a very strong, multi-faceted story.

What are your experiences in writing with others? Is it something you want to try, but haven’t yet? What’s stopping you?

Cross posted to Samurai Scribes