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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Co-authoring: Getting Started

As promised, I'll be sharing some of the techniques that Nikki and I used to co-author Beneath the Surface. (Nikki's also sharing her tips, so be sure to check out her blog too.)  Our experience is particularly unique because we've never met in person. Nikki lives in California; I live in Florida. We're separated by thousands of miles and three time zones. But we still made it work. Here's how.
Myspace Quotes
Myspace Quotes, Teamwork Quotes at

1. I asked Nikki to work with me because I had read her first novel, Shoreline, and felt our writing styles were compatible. My first book is a retelling of a Greek myth; hers draws heavily on mythology, although it's set in present day. So for me, step one was finding someone with similar interests and a comparable writing style. I can thank #YALitChat for allowing us to meet.

2. We researched how other sucessful co-authors (notably Kami Garcia & Margie Stohl) have made the process work for them. The main goal is to have seamless writing- it's imperative that the voice remain the same from chapter to chapter. So our first & most important rule of co-authoring is that either of us can change the other's words, no questions asked. We don't red line and ask the other for permission. That was the primary ground rule we established before we started writing.

3. Our last step before we started writing was to create very detailed character skeches and a pretty thorough outline. When I say detailed, I mean we went online shopping for all of our characters. We picked out outfits & shoes typical of them all. We nailed down their personality quirks, favorite everything, all biographical information. In conjunction, we created a fairly detailed outline. Our characters are working on a set timeline (2 weeks), so we laid out all 14 days and made sure we had a general idea of what needed to happen each day & night. (And yes, we did go back & revamp the outline when we were about 1/2 way through.)

Sheri asked specifically last week: How do you collaborate ideas at the very beginning?
I had the primary idea for BTS when we got started, but I had stalled and didn't know where to go with it. Nikki and I wrote back and forth, exchanging ideas.  Then, we started the outline, again passing it back and forth.  I'd fill in some ideas and e-mail it to Nikki.  She'd add to it and send it back.  We passed in back and forth until we'd created a story line and characters we were happy with.  Along the way, we'd ask each other questions.  How would this work, etc.? And it helped us solidify the mythology in our minds before we started writing.

So that was our getting started process. Next week I'll talk about how we divided work and did the writing. Got any questions? Leave us a comment and we'll be sure to answer.


Ezmirelda said...

I am currently co-authoring a book with a writer all the way from Scottland and I live in America. It's been pretty fun so far. We do a full length chapter each (me the odds and her the evens) and in a week we already had about 15k done of the story. Even though we only decided to do it for fun (and to keep ourselves from procrastinating) I'm so surprised how good it is, and how much faster it is to write chapters when we put both our heads together. As much as we try, our voices are still very different from one another. Especially when she writes favourite with a "u" and I write favorite without the "u".

Jessie said...

:) too funny - I imagine there are some spelling discrepancies there.

Heather Howland said...

Ack, I misread! I've been haunting your blog all day waiting for the next post on diving the work. Jus Accardo and I are writing a book together during NaNoWriMo. Hearing about your experience has been very helpful!

I have one question - you say it's a hard and fast rule that you not change each other's words to preserve the voice of the story. How exactly does that work? I know in our cases, Jus and I have very different strengths (she's great with snarky characters and is insanely creative, me not so much) so I'm counting on her to firm up parts of my stuff and I'll be editing the entire manuscript at the end.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and congratulations on the first draft!

Jessie said...

Heather - you've actually got our process backwards. It was a hard and fast rule that we COULD change each others' words, no questions asked. That was part of the way we kept the voice smooth, was going in and polishing over each others' words. Of course, we've got more work to do in the edits, but edits would take forever if we had to keep asking, minding if I change x to y? we don't ask, we just do.
good luck on your own co-authoring project! I'm still not brave enough to take on NaNoWriMo. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Heather Howland said...

OH!! How did I misread that?! *blinks obviously blind eyes* Well, that makes much more sense. Thanks for answering!

cleemckenzie said...

This is an exciting adventure for you two. It certainly makes writing less lonely. Appreciated sharing the process you've used to combine your efforts.

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