An extract from “How To Write A Collaborative Novel” by Heide Goody and Iain Grant – published by Pigeon Park Press in 2013
Have you ever been at a party or other social situation and spoken to a married couple who seem bizarrely mismatched?
The kind of marriage that seems horribly one-sided? Have you, once the married couple have wandered off to socialise elsewhere, turned to a friend and said, “How did he/she manage to end up with someone as beautiful/intelligent/witty/charming as that!”?
If you’ve never done that it’s probably because you’re a wonderful human being who can see the best in everyone. But such couples are out there, ones where one brings all the good stuff to the party and the other … just… stands there.
What about a couple who are both wonderful in their own way but whose personal traits totally fail to complement one another? Imagine a friend who is lovely and kind and very thoughtful but has no practical skills, absolutely no common sense and no ability to manage their finances. You probably hope that they are going to find themselves a boyfriend/girlfriend who loves them for who they are but has that common sense grounding to make up for their failings. But what if they end up with someone else, equally lovely, but equally useless in the practical aspects of life? Are they going to spend the rest of their lives as a kind and gentle pair who are in constant debt, live in a collapsing unmaintained home and keep on making sweet but dumb life choices?
In a good and strong partnership, each partner makes up for the others failings. Look at a successful married couple you know. One will be the practical one. One will be the spontaneous one. One will be the thoughtful one. One will be the money-savvy one. One will be the funny one. One will be out-going. One will be mature and wise. One will remember birthdays. One will be exciting and passionate. One will be calm and unflappable. One will be able to change a plug. One will be able to cook a three course meal. It doesn’t matter which person does which but the important thing is that at least one of them does each of them.
As in marriage, so it is in collaborative writing.
You may be a great writer with a particular skill set but does your partner’s skill set mirror yours or complement it.
Here’s a useful exercise for you and your writing partner; think about what you’re bringing to the party. You will probably have talked already about your writing experience. Did you talk about your strengths and weaknesses?
Grade yourself between 1 and 10 on the following, judging how easily and successfully you think you’re able to do them:
- Coming up with original ideas
- Creating well-rounded, believable characters
- Plotting at the high level
- Plotting at the low level
- Writing with a compelling voice
- Writing sparkling dialogue
- Editing effectively
If you can get these out in the open, in an honest discussion, then you should be able to capitalise on your strengths and find ways to tackle your weaknesses.
I am not suggesting that you will hand over all of the editing to the person who’s best at editing. You can do that if you want to, but I think it would be much more productive if you could use the opportunity to pick up some editing skills from your collaborator as you work together.
Now, what else are you bringing to this project? I use the word project deliberately, because it holds a clue to some of the other skills that you might want to think about.
Do the grading exercise again, with these skills:
- Organising large pieces of work into manageable chunks
- Recording details
- Looking for opportunities
- Considering risks
- Adapting to change
You will probably need all of these if you’re writing a novel together, so you should know where you both stand with regard to the non-writing activities. Keep the list handy as you work through the sections in the book on doing the work. For each new thing that you do, consider how you will organize, record and schedule the work, and give a thought to what risks and opportunities might arise.
A brief word on risk. Writers are often in possession of a powerful imagination. If you ask a writer what could possibly go wrong with something, they will divert their creative effort into imagining all sorts of colourful scenarios. If you think of a risk then you also need to work out how serious it could be and how likely it is to occur. If you can take action to prevent it then do. Otherwise, don’t get hung up.
An example of a risk worth taking seriously might be that Hilary is worried that she and Leslie will forget about their planned phone calls when they are busy writing. She addresses it by setting up a meeting in her email software and sending to Leslie so that they will both see it in their schedule.
So, you have a better idea of your project management skills, what else are you both bringing to the party?
You should talk about any knowledge specialisms that you have. I am going to define a knowledge specialism as “any subject that you could speak about for fifteen minutes”.
It’s likely you have a few. If you have expertise from a professional job, or some knowledge from a course that’s great. Maybe you’ve lived in an interesting place, or your cultural background is very different to your partner’s. If you’re an expert on cooking, gardening or photography, then that is just as likely to prove useful, and you should let your collaborator know, in case it strikes a chord with them.
There’s one more set of skills that I want you to consider.
It’s on the subject of selling books. Once you’ve written one, then you will presumably want to sell it. However you decide to do this, there is a duty that falls to the writers to promote it, even if you’re with a large publisher. What are your assets and skills in this area?
- Do you have anyone in your circle of friends who works in publishing or something related?
- Do you have a celebrity who will support your efforts?
- Do you have a blog? Does it get lots of hits?
- How many Facebook friends do you have?
- How many Twitter followers do you have?
- Is one of you a famous author?
- Do you have previously published work?
- Do you have any kind of fan base?
- Can you passionately evangelise about something you believe in?
- Are you prepared to socialize and network in circles that might be useful to you?
Pigeon Park Press’ new collaborative writing project Ten To One is currently looking for participants: http://pigeonparkpress.blogspot.co.uk/p/ten-to-one-collaboratively-written.html