Testing the water – how do you know you’ve found the right collaborator?

Testing the water

What do you do if you and a potential collaborator have found each other, but you’re not sure if you are ready to commit to working together?
You write some test pieces.
This might sound like a lot of hassle if you want to dive in and create the finished article, but if you imagine the potential risk of wasting hundreds of hours with the wrong collaborator, then it’s worth a brief diversion.
Did you already talk about where your own experiences overlap?
Discuss with your collaborator what sort of things are in that overlap. Come up with a few books that you’ve both read. Now remind yourselves of some of the characters in those books. What were their key character traits, and what things did they do in the stories that you read? Now pick two characters that were from different stories. Completely different ones. They never met, as they were from different fictional worlds.
Now, each of you pick from the list below of possible scenarios for the two of them meeting.

  • One of them has taken something precious from the other and has been caught red-handed
  • They are both accidentally locked in somewhere
  • One rescues the other from certain death
  • They cross paths in the aftermath of a disaster and decide to team up
  • They meet in a social situation that makes one of them very awkward
  • They compete for favour from someone powerful

When you have each picked the one that you’d like to write then agree some ground rules for the test pieces.
I’d suggest that they should probably be somewhere between 800-1500 words. They don’t have to tell a whole story, it’s just a scene.
You should agree on the arena for your pieces. If the two donor stories were set in two different worlds then pick which one you’ll use. Agree on the basic writing style that you will use. First person? Third person? Omniscient narrator?
Set a deadline for your pieces and then review them. You should be able to learn a lot from these. They are strictly throwaway, but you can see whether it’s likely that you and your partner can get into the groove of producing similar fiction. How different are they in style? Can you identify what it is that makes them different?
Swap them over and edit each others’ pieces to be more like something that you would have written. I don’t mean change the whole thing to portray a different scene, but stylistically adjust the sentences to be more like something you would have written yourself. Does your original piece still feel like something you’d be happy to put your name to? Do the two pieces read as though they could have been written by the same person? You might need to find a third person to answer that question objectively, or you could feed them into one of the fun text analysis tools you can find on the internet for some clues.
If you can still find differences then talk about them. Do they say something about your writing? Maybe they say something about your editing. Decide to be bolder and edit again if you think it will help. This is really valuable information. You might decide that it’s just not going to be possible to work together, based on this. You might decide that you’d like to work together but that one of you will need to work on writing more concisely and / or the other should edit more brutally.

Posted in 2012, Books, How-to's, Writing Tagged with: , ,
3 comments on “Testing the water – how do you know you’ve found the right collaborator?
  1. Johan Bolin says:


    this comment has nothing to do with your post, but I just read a story called "A Loving Son" in Dark Tales volume XV, and I believe you are the culprit. I wasn't able to find your email adress, and I absolutely loathe twitter, so therefore I use the medium of commenting in order to tell you:
    The story was amazing. Really, really, really good. Well done!

    If the story is not by you then… well, oops. This post is good to.

    Johan, Finland

  2. Johan Bolin says:

    The above comment is meant for Iain Grant. This is, however, an interesting blog. I'm glad to have found it.

  3. Iain Grant says:

    Hi Johan,

    Thanks for the very very kind comment. I'm surprised you've been able to get hold of a copy of Dark Tales as I'm sure they're aren't many around. I think I wrote that story 5 or 6 years ago. I love writing short horror stories and I do find they are the easiest stories to find a market for.

    A Loving Son was a sort of clockpunk horror and it's a subgenre I do enjoy very much. I was particularly inspired by the automaton builders of the 18th and 19th century such as Von Kempelen. Some of the true history of automatons is stranger than any fiction.

    Dark Tales is among some of the books I have contributed to that can be found on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Iain-Grant/e/B008Q5MALI/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1) and I look forward to seeing some more of my horror stories being published soon.