Fiction Writing: Collaborating and Co-Authoring

Writing a novel is lonely work. There’s just you, and you’re isolated. You probably don’t share your work for fear of criticism or ridicule. The only people who know about what’s on the pages you’ve penned are your characters.

Collaborating with another person on a novel opens up a wealth of exciting opportunities. Many writers toy with the idea of co-authoring, but few follow through – and that’s a shame.

Co-Authoring is Easy

Many methods allow two (or more) people to work on a novel at once. Email is the simplest, with each person adding a section onto the document as his or her turn comes up.

Another method of fast-paced co-authoring is chat-based role-playing, in which each person chats via IM in the persona of his or her character. As each session is done, all you need to do is copy the text into a Word document and give it a good edit and a polish.

Forum posting is another popular method and blogging certainly has its potential. Each new post develops the scene. Comment sections can be used for the authors to discuss or take notes about each paragraph.

Collaboration is Damned Fun

Single authors have the daunting task of knowing all their characters moves and thoughts – and having to make all that sound fresh and unscripted at all times. It’s difficult to create a true surprise reaction when you know the outcome of the situation.

A co-author eliminates the issue. You never know what’s coming around the bend. The element of surprise is always there, the drama runs high, and your focus is on that of your character’s reactions. They’ll always sound realistic, because they aren’t pre-planned.

Don’t Plan Everything

Novels should have a start, middle and end. But planning out everything ruins that element of surprise we just discussed. Reactionary writing is far more entertaining for both novelists and readers.

You may want to have a skeleton framework for your story. If you both know the plot, don’t fill in the blanks. Alternatively, have only one of you know the plot to help keep the suspense alive.

A third option is to fly by the seat of your pants and see where your characters take you both.

Every Author Has a Character

The best collaborations are ones in which each author has his or her own set of characters. The characters aren’t shared between writers.

That way, the character’s author comes to know the persona as well as he or she knows himself, without the distraction of another person’s perception muddling the character concept.

Usually, though, either author can set up scenes. An introduction scene sets the stage for all characters involved, and the authors work with what has been provided as detail.

Pick a Similar Style

One caution when choosing a collaborator: Pick a person who writes similarly with a tone and style that resembles your own. Your work needs to blend with your co-author’s and vice versa to appear seamless to the reader.

It must read as if only one person penned the novel. Any distractions, a change of tone, a subtle shift in style, and the suspension of disbelief goes shooting right out the window.

Don’t Discuss

“Why’d you do that?” “What’s your character thinking?” No, no, no. Never discuss your novel out of character. The biggest reason is that it’s far more interesting for everyone involved to work the issues out in character – and you’ll potentially have a stunning scene.

Another common co-author phrase you may hear is, “I can’t react without knowing what your character is going to do.” Bullshit. Yes, you can. Writers who say this fear the unknown, but a good novel is all about not knowing what’s going to happen next.

Set your character free and let him or her react openly given the circumstances. If the world blows apart, so be it. If devastated emotions occur, rock on. If the whole scene shifts and part of the plot becomes irrelevant, enjoy it.

Harry and I have been collaborating on novels for so many years that we may have missed covering one point or another. If you’re curious about co-authoring and you have a question, feel free to ask.

It’ll be our pleasure to share our knowledge with you.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.