Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going it Alone

By R.J. Harlick

Have you ever thought about collaborating with another author? If so, who would you pick, if you could pick anyone?

In a previous life, I would occasionally be involved in collaborative writing projects. But it was business writing, either consulting reports or proposals for new business. I remember one large submission for a multi-million dollar systems project that required at least ten if not more people, each writing a section of the multi-volume bid. As the proposal manager I also held the editing pen, so not only did I have to ensure that everything made sense and was well written, but I also had to make certain there was an overall consistency in the writing, in addition to the fun task of pulling all the bits together by writing the conclusion and the executive summary.  Since most sections of a proposal or report were fairly self-contained, it was relatively easy to write them collaboratively and given the size of some of these papers, it was the only way to get it completed within the proscribed time period.

Fiction writing however is an entirely different matter. Everything is inter-related. Seldom if ever does anything stand on its own within a novel. Characters and their unique voices interact with each other as they wander from chapter to chapter as the story line unfolds from the hook of the opening sentence until the satisfying sigh of the last one.

I can’t for the life of me conceive of how more than one person can write a novel and live to tell the tale, so to speak. But they do and some are very successful at it, such as the all pervasive James Patterson, who publishes I don’t know how many block-busters a year. I believe the approach he uses is to hire someone to write the story based on his outline. Once completed he takes over the final editing pen to shape it into his style of writing.

Other collaborative writing adventures with which I am familiar are family affairs. Curiously they involve a parent and a child, like the mother and son duo of Charles Todd or the mother and daughter duo of Victoria Abbott. I believe Michael Slade is a father and a daughter duo, although he has collaborated with his wife…hmmm wonder if they are still married… and also his law partners. Perhaps the family connection makes for like minds and thus a similarity in writing style and story telling.

I do know of a couple of ‘friends’ partnerships, one of which is successful, Sparkle Abbey, while the other has hit a rocky road. It likely isn’t as easy to sort out differences between friends as it would be between family members, because let’s face it, there are going to be some knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out differences that can lead to splattered coffee and slammed doors.

I understand in most of these collaborations the writing is divvied up either through taking on different characters or different subplots within the overall story line, rather than both working on the same chapters at the same time.

But have I ever considered doing a collaboration? You guessed it. My answer would be a resounding ‘NO’.  I can barely get along with myself while writing a book, let alone having to get along with another writer. I’m afraid I like the writer’s solitude too much. The thought of breaking my train of thought to share it with another while I am writing would have me shuddering in my moccasins. I would think to be successful a collaborative writing venture would require a well thought out and developed outline before the writing even began and the discipline to stick to it. As an acknowledged pantser, this is way beyond my capacity. Anytime I have tried an outline, I have diverged from it before the first chapter is finished.

I wish all those collaborative novelists out there much success, but this is one writer who’s going to continue to go it alone.

What about you? Have you ever considered writing a novel with another person?


Catriona McPherson said...

Oh, I'm so glad this isn't my week! I'm currently collaborating with our very own Susan Shea, and five others, to write a report for Sisters in Crime. And I'm the team-leader. Turns out I have no leadership skills whatsoever. But, it is rather lovely to know that a bit of writing is being done and you're not doing it.

Susan C Shea said...

"I can barely get along with myself while writing a book." LOL - I know exactly what you mean, Robin. The dialogue I have with myself is tiring at times. I can't imagine the arguments with someone who isn't inside my head, and whose imagined Dani or Katherine (my chief protagonists in two series) isn't like my own. your own protagonist is so clearly drawn and consistent, I know that any battles you had with yourself were won.

BTW, Catriona, is unduly modest about her talents as an inspiring, bold leader for our project. I'm honored to be working on it with her.

RJ Harlick said...

Good luck the two of you in your collaboration. With such fabulous writers it will doubtless be the best report ever written.:)