Co-writing a Novel – Exciting and Challenging

Feather Stone: I am so excited to introduce you to Skye Myers, an author I met in a writer’s critique group. When I learned she has co-authored a novel, I couldn’t wait to learn more about her experience working with another writer. Skye, thank you for taking time to chat with our readers. Please tell us about your novel and what led you and your co-author to work together.

SkyeSkye Myers: Hello, Judy and all the lovely readers of Judy’s blog! I’m ridiculously excited about this interview. Okay, so, the novel, in a (somewhat large) nutshell, goes like this: two main characters, both a different species of paranormal, become best friends. Not such a shocker, but it just so happens that one of them is a vampire, and the other is a werewolf, and the two species are supposed to be sworn enemies. So the very existence of their relationship is uncommon, frowned upon, and even viewed as a threat, an abomination.

But they really don’t care. And then mud hits the fan, and their odd friendship prevails, ending up stronger than ever because of said fan-hitting mud.

I’m hoping the novel will appeal to those who enjoy the paranormal, hunky males, rock bands, tattoos, and the unbreakable bond of friendship and love.

But if you dislike the idea of love and equality, some heavy petting, and the main characters having the mouths of sailors, then maybe this book isn’t for you. What led my co-author and I to work together? That’s a good question. We didn’t really plan it. At the time, we were roommates and best friends, had been so for a couple of years. We’re both huge fans of both reading and the supernatural (especially reading supernatural novels); I’ve been writing creatively since I learned how as a child, and she took English/essay writing in university.

Being able to work with someone who knew how/when to get shit done (explanation: she said, “We’re almost done the story.” I said, “Are we??” And I honestly would have just kept going, turning it into a disaster, had she not put her foot down and told me that we had to finish) helped enable me to do my part in giving our novel an ending.

Anyway. So, how we decided to co-write together: we were sitting in an Edmonton hospital emergency waiting room (a story for another day), and we were bored to death. And I looked at her and said, “Two characters.”

Because she was used to my random blabbering, she just waited patiently for me to continue. So I did, saying, “One’s a werewolf. The other is a…” And I waited.

We kind of turned it into our own game of Mad Libs, where we went back and forth sharing ideas and things like, “Oh, how about this happens?” and, “I think the vamp should have red hair” and whatnot. We each adopted one of the characters, came up with this half-ass idea for a story, and then, voila! A co-writing adventure was born.

 

Feather Stone: Are you kidding me? This amazing story began in a hospital’s emergency waiting room? And you two were bored? I can’t wait to hear more about that. I’ll dig that piece from you later. Now I know this story must be incredible. What is the title of this story? And, what I also want to know is how two writers begin to develop the main characters? Was it a merging of ideas or did each of you take on the task of development one of the characters?

Skye: I kid you not. And I can’t even properly explain without giving part of the story away. Let’s just say: there’s a hospital scene in the novel that was the very first idea we had; the rest of the story blossomed from there. The title is “She’s a Pretty Monster: The Masque.” It’s possibly the first novel of a trilogy – or series, we haven’t decided yet. We came up with the two main characters by each choosing our own personal favorite supernatural ‘creature’. We were each in charge of our own character until later on in the story, where we started to merge ideas. Because, as I think all writers know, we can come up with the basics, but the characters come alive and introduce themselves sooner or later, and we’re often surprised by what they’re like. For example, neither of us intended for one of the characters to have this vain-but-charmingly-so personality, but she sure showed us.

 

Feather Stone: Yes, I love it when the characters begin to find their voice and lead the author to surprises within their personality, demands, fears – even influence the plot’s direction. And, I can see how exciting writing a novel can be working with a co-author – and perhaps challenging. If I had a vision of how a plot should be written but my co-author had a different vision, that might be the death of the story.

How did you and your co-author decide on the story’s plot? Did you both map out the plot before starting to write, or did the story evolve over time after writing each chapter? If you each had opposing visions, how did you work that out?

Skye: That pretty much sums up the co-writing experience right there – exciting and challenging.

Before, I’d only ever heard the All Good or the Big Bad of co-writing adventures. Either there were so few problems that they weren’t worth writing about, or else the co-writers are now no longer on speaking terms. But I’ve found that co-writing, like almost everything else in life, is not so black-and-white.

Problems are inevitable. You’ve got two people, with different thoughts, ideas, voices, and skills, trying to put a puzzle together, and you’ve both got your own ways of doing it. The trick is to make the journey as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.

How do you find out of co-writing is right for you? The easiest way I can think of is: think of your last job interview. There was most likely a question asking: Do you prefer to work alone or as a team? When it comes to co-writing, you have to be as honest with yourself as possible. Give yourself a job interview, and ask yourself that question. “Do I prefer to write alone, or can I work with someone else?” If your answer is something like: “Writing with someone else will most likely make me homicidal 90% of the time”, or if you have a t-shirt that says, “Does not play well with others,” then you have your answer.

But if you’re uncertain, or think you could, then by all means, do it. Because it’s fun, and it helps you get out of your comfort zone (we writers do love our comfort zones), and being able to make it to the end is such a good feeling. Plus, you’ll automatically have someone to share celebratory drinks with when your first draft is complete.

My co-writer and I didn’t discuss the plot until we were mostly finished the first draft – which, to me, was a mistake that turned out surprisingly well. I think that, had we mapped out the story from beginning to end, it would have made things a hell of a lot easier.

There are two ways of putting a novel together: mapping it, or winging it. Regardless of your preference, when you’re working with a co-writer, I would highly recommend that you map it.

When working with someone else, communication is so, so important. And being able to look at the outline you’ve both made brings order, structure, and a solid foundation to build up from.

If I could go back, I would want to map out details about *everything*: which of the major characters is going to be the main character, which is going to be the protagonist (not always the same); the personalities and physical appearances of all characters; what the plot is; what the subplots are; everything.

Otherwise, it’s kind of like being a ping-pong ball: you’re both all over the place, there’s a stack of ideas you have but you can’t use them because your co-writer just threw something in that totally changed the game (*note: this can happen, regardless), and now there’s more stress, and you’re pissed at her because she wrote in your character and got it all wrong, and it is ten times more likely that you’ll butt heads over the smallest thing. I imagine that this – writing in chaos – is how friendships can be broken.

My co-writer and I got lucky. We didn’t have too many opposing opinions. But the couple of times we did, it went like this:

Me: “I like this idea.”

She: “Nah. I don’t like that. Why don’t we do this, instead?”

Me: *mumbles, annoyed, but secretly likes the new idea* “Yeah, okay.”

And the best thing is, if, at the end of the rough draft, you dislike how something in the story went down, you can discuss it and change it, if need be.

Another thing I feel I should make note of is this: writer’s pride. You have it, I have it, we all have it. It’s what makes our hackles stand up when someone says anything negative about our work. It’s important to have (because you’re a damn good writer and your ideas are enviable – what’s not to be proud of?), but it’s also important that you can separate yourself from it, so that you don’t bite anyone’s head off when they give you constructive criticism.

And when you’re co-writing, it is *crucial* to not let that pride get in your way.

Even having thoughts/implying things like, “I’m right, because I have a higher education – you’re nothing but a peasant”, or “I’m the expert here, so I’m not even going to listen to what you have to say”… That is what I call blinding pride, AKA arrogance, and when you have thoughts like that, they’re often misplaced.

So, remember: pride in your writing = necessary, good.

Blinding pride = useless, usually wrong.

There is no room for high horses in co-writing.

 

Feather Stone: There is so much more to discuss on this subject. Skye Myers will return in two weeks to talk more about her experiences as a co-author and provide advice on how to enjoy this writing option.

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