Collaborative writing may seem like an impossible option for many authors. We are by nature, usually solitary creatures who toil at our keyboards or notebooks alone, for hours and days on end.
Writing alone absolutely has its place, but it isn’t the only option. Some of my best writing experiences to date have been the result of collaboration. My experiences began with the opportunity to join a team in the “Write-a-Book-in-a-Day” competition, raising money for The Kids’ Cancer Project. We had to write and illustrate an entire book for 8-14 year olds in 12 hours. Not only did we do it, my Northern Beaches Writers’ Group team has won three years in a row. (If you want to support our fourth effort CLICK HERE – all money goes to finding a cure for cancer)
We have now published our three award-winning collaborative novels – Scribbles in the Dark (2013), A Dolphin for Naia (2014), Rider and the Hummingbird (2015) and a fourth children’s novel is being published in late 2016. In all four publications there were between five and ten writers!
So how did we come up with a story we all wanted to write, choose characters, find a common voice? How did up to ten creative voices, unify into one?
Here are a few tips to get your collaborative juices flowing!
1. Majority Rules
It is important from the start for everyone to leave their egos at the door and understand decisions will be based on what the majority wants. Everyone should get a say, but you need to accept you’ll have to adjust what you believed was the best direction for the story if you are outvoted. If everyone is on the same page with this from the very beginning it will make the experience far more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.
2. Choose a Leader
It is good to have someone who can work as a leader and arbiter to keep everyone moving forward. This person doesn’t necessarily have more power or more say than anyone else but can help determine when it’s time to simply make a decision.
3. Do Lots of Planning
It is crucial to do lots of planning and plotting as a group. Even if you are normally a pantser, you will need to change camps if you are collaborating. The more work you do fleshing out your characters, the more detailed your settings and the clearer the plot, the more likely it will be you find a common voice when you write. Butchers paper or a white board that is clearly visible to everyone will make this part of the process more effective and easy for people to refer back to later.
4. Divide and Conquer
Once you have done LOTS of planning and plotting, then it is time to divide up the story and start writing. Using your butchers paper or white board again, split up your story using a basic narrative arc. What are you moments of rising tension and what is your climax? How does it resolve? As you fit your plot to the story arc you will begin to see how it can be broken down into sections or chapters.
For each section write the starting point, a line about what happens and the end point of that chapter or section. That way the cliffhanger endings are clear and you have smoother flow between the chapters before and after you. Decide on your word count and then divide the story up to fit the number of writers. Then it’s time to write!
5. Read and Revise
Once everyone has written their sections of the story it is time to pull it all together. Read through from beginning to end. Don’t worry if there are gaps or inconsistencies – there will be! Just make notes and fix these when it’s time to revise. If your plotting has been thorough, you will be amazed how close to having a complete story you already are.
Revising your own chapter is a good next step but then you need to look at whole book edits. Have everyone read the book and give feedback. Once again, majority rules!
The final steps will depend on the number of writers, their experience and the group dynamic. Once the fundamentals of the story are decided then I believe having two or three people doing the final edits or proofing is a good idea.
6. Don’t be precious … it will always be your story too!
In the collaborative novel your words won’t necessarily end up printed the way you originally wrote them. Anyone who has been edited will understand that different eyes see different things – some changes you will agree with, some you won’t. Often authors can challenge edit suggestions, but when you are collaborating, sometimes the changes simply need to be made. Remember, majority rules! However, even if changes have been made don’t forget you will have been instrumental in giving your creative baby life. You were part of the process and it is still equally your creation, regardless of any changes that have been made.
So find some like-minded writers and give it a go. What have you got to lose?