It was a Sunday morning, on a day approaching 40℃ with the humidity, in a local Starbucks. There was tea on the table, both hot and the iced variety. And a notebook with many hastily scribbled lines.
“You didn’t get my email asking you to print this?” asked the iced tea drinker, who sometimes goes by the name of Mirintala.
“Nooooo,” the hot tea drinker, often called Shadicats, replied.
And so began the great (poetry writing…) *crossed out with a crayon*
And so began the great teamwork.
Shadicats: Truly did start out as described above. Although the first step is communication. I gave my wonderful friend Mirintala a copy of my poorly written-to-rhyme poem and in person explained the background of the piece and the ideas. The two most important keys to writing together with someone else is communication and flexibility. I failed at the communication part since I forgot to check my e-mail before going to the meeting. My bad Mirintala, and my many apologizes.
Mirintala: Apology accepted. So the reason I wanted a paper copy is my brain was having a very hard time finding the rhythm of the poem on my phone. Once explaining this, Shadicats explained that she hadn’t put any rhythm after the first stanza, just aimed for rhyme. Which explains why my head hurt so much trying to find the flow of it. We wrote it out on paper, and started there. It was not easy. I was asked to add to it, but I didn’t know any of the characters or situations mentioned in it. There was a lot of explaining needed.
So we started with:
There once was a Flat named Peppermint
A tin merchant, a drunk and a coward all in one
A bat at ready to her own detriment
And a brand new mag to jam her gun for fun
“Thanks Evil, your merchandise sux
and you owe me a lot of flux!”
She eats cold mystery meat
As she watches old Granny
Use a needle on canvas to defeat
Gravity sewing on her fat (fluffy is crossed out) fanny.
With a pen she records
Fenn’s stupid spoken words
As darkness falls, every foe and friend
looks a like, beware the bend or the mend
Be scared of the shadows
They bring nothing but sorrows
Bartertown is like no place
Brown and without grace
Yet, there is no other like it
And here we are, commit or quit.
“Buy my fucking tins you nitwits”
Shadicats: A lot of back and forth debates were had over caffeinated beverages. A lot of crossing out of stuff, arrows to indicate switch this verse to that verse. This is where the second step “compromise” is handy. You gotta take your pride and disable it for a while, so you can come to an agreement on a point of contention. Trust me, if you are truly are collaborating, you will have conflict. Let’s face it, everyone is egoist to a degree and thinks they are the center of the universe, even the most selfless person has this somewhere at their core; with that comes the “I’m so wonderful, all my ideas are wonderful and you are all wrong. I’m always right.” Put away that BS right off the bat. Fine, you can argue “I’m not like that ever” if you want, but one day you will wake up and realise I’m right.
Mirintala: I think one of the hardest parts was keeping track on the paper as to what was the current version. Nothing actually got crossed out, and none of it was in order. There were points where it got a bit frustrating. “Add something about the shark guy” was a difficult thing when I only had a short description to go by. It’s very different from writing about my own characters, or characters I had at least lived with a while. Hearing different stories about the LARP the poem was about helped with the sudden addition of other lines to help fix the flow. (The words must flow…) And thank goodness for the Internet for checking references. This was just a short poem, but Shadicats and I have collaborated on much longer works in the past.
Our poem work ended with:
There was once a Flat named Pepper Mint
A tin merchant, drunk, and coward all in one,
With a bat at ready to her own detriment,
And a brand new mag to jam her gun for fun.
“Thanks Evil, your merchandise sux, AND you owe me some flux!”
Pepper eats cold mystery meat as she watches old granny
Who sits sewing on her fat (fluffy?) fanny,
Trying to defeat gravity with a needle and thread,
While listening to rhythmic prose of the dead.
He’s grey and white and loves to fight
But he’s just a tough growl with no bite.
He knows your corpse would be a tasty dish
But “So along and thanks for all the fish.”
With a feather, Pepper records, All of your stupid spoken words.
“As darkness falls, with no fire alight
All friends and foes will look alike.
Beware the bend or the med,
For on your own you must fend.
Bartertown is like no pace
Brown and without any grace.
Yet, there is no other like it,
And here we are, commit or quit!”
“AND buy my fucking tins, you fucking it wits!” Signed, Love Pepper.
Shadicats: Oh, yes. Many past projects from our wee years in High School. One of my favourite projects was the HappyHills Saga (unofficial title?) started in High School with Miri and another friend Penance; along with input from a few others. That one snowballed into something epic with good load of Mary Sue. Nothing wrong with “Mary Sue” either. Especially helpful when you need another writer to write the character you are writing; the pre-built characters they know so well. (Maybe we should call this Step three; write what you know? I like steps, steps makes things easier.)
Mirintala: Steps sound like climbing. Anyway. Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with a Mary Sue, especially when you’re starting out. Putting yourself in a story, having the chance to be powerful, can be a great escape from life. And these characters weren’t hiding who they were. For the first story, we had everyone in the group come up with the dying words for their character and built that in. The setting, of course, was our city. There was a lot of back and forth. At some points, outright discussing what would happen next before writing it out, other times passing drafts around for changes and additions.
Shadicats: It was nice to see a story evolve organically and without a master plan. From changes and deviations to what was discussed and what was ultimate written down. It grew like a tree.
Mirintala: I’ve never been able outline. I’m a “pantser” as they call it, but I prefer the term I’ve heard Tee Morris use: emotive writer. I might have some scenes or thoughts for later in a story, but no map to go with it. Shadicats on the other hand, can do pages of outline.
Shadicats: I like outlines, it is true. When working with someone other than Miri, an outline helps keeps the fraction down a bit. When working with Miri, no outline is used. That is a compromise, (see Step 2?). Outlines help keep you on track and can easily answer, “What’s my character doing next? Where is my story headed?” They are awesome because they can be simply and short point form notes. OR they can be more detail outlines. I use the later often; a lot of my longer stories are just rewrites of a very detailed outline. Currently, the outline for my massive space opera is the only thing that gives me hope on ever completing it. Massive space opera was a collaboration with Boter on the setting and universe; we built a sandbox together so massive that anyone could come into the setting and write whatever they like. In fact, he ran with the idea so much, he built an RPG around the setting along with handful of short stories.
Mirintala: See what I mean about the outlines? I just can’t do that. I can work with filling in the gaps on someone else’s outline though. Shadicats and I have a bit of a bonus in the collab department in that we used to be at a text based online RPG site. There was a lot of time spent on ICQ (the IM program that was common at the time) going back and forth to write posts together.
Shadicats: See step one. Communication – very important. Building a good working relationship is also helpful. I’ve been blessed with a decade and more to build this good working relationship with Miri. She speaks Shadicats like only a few do. My fingers would type a famously annoying typo (use to be while, well, will) and Miri would automatically know what I was talking about. My number one goal in writing was to improve my shoddy english skills and working with someone who is smarter in the english department is a positive because they’ll point your flaws. Sometimes with a gently nudge and sometimes with a big foam bat over the head a few times. Knowing your limits and the limits of your partner so you can work within both your strengths is supremely valuable in the co-writing team.
Mirintala: Flatterer. One thing I’ve loved when editing anyone’s work is seeing them take the changes to heart and improve their skills. It makes for a “mah baby’s all grown up” moment. There are some things each of us will always struggle with, and it is very difficult to edit yourself since your brain is set it its way. (And autocorrect is just making things worse. A lot of the time I can tell when someone wrote a blog post on a device with autocorrect.) But back to writing, as someone who doesn’t outline, I get stuck. A lot. Waiting for the characters to tell me what comes next. When you’re writing with someone else, you have someone to pass off the draft to, either for ideas on what to do next, or for them to just write the next piece. It keeps things moving.
Shadicats: Oh boy, does side projects stall without an outline. Like this one. Yes, we are flying by the seat of our pants (I don’t care if Cliches are bad, I like them and they convey the message better than anything original I can think up.) But some of the best writing is done without a plan or going off plan. Characters have their own mind, despite what many people believe and a character will develop into a monster sometimes without the writer’s consent in the matter. Story writing should be organic. Technical writing shouldn’t.
Mirintala: I’m sure having an outline makes it more likely that a story will come to an end, but I’d rather let the story decide if it’s going to survive. I believe there is no such thing as wasted words, even if a project is shelved. All words are practice and those ideas will find a new life in other projects.
Shadicats: Truly couldn’t have said it better. Practice good folks, find a partner in crime and go practice.