Writing as a team

We write as a team.

Some writing teams share the work more or less equally. They divide the book into scenes and each partner writes their own scenes. We divide it differently, although we can see that changing over time, particularly as we venture into children’s stories.

At present though, the work is divided roughly along the lines of the following.

The idea

One of us has an idea. It could come from either person, it just has to grab both our imaginations and make us think it has somewhere to go.

We discuss the idea until it clicks with both of us. This can take hours, days or weeks, and some ideas go nowhere because they intrigue one of us but the other can’t get interested at all. Sometimes the one who has the idea persists in writing it anyway, because they can’t let go.

By the time we have something we can both work with the idea has changed completely from the original. The initial idea for Satisfaction, for example, was an adult novel. The story we will end up writing is a children’s cartoon. Even so, the germ of the idea is still there, it’s just not the same story.

First draft

The person who has the idea writes the first draft. Let’s say that’s me, in this case.

At the end of each day I hand what I have done over to Sherylyn to read. She reads it off the screen, highlighting any major problems such as bad characters or bad plot lines.

Next day we discuss where the story goes now, and that night I type in the next day’s wordage.

At the end of the first draft we re-read the whole story. Sherylyn goes through it looking for major plot holes and problem characterisation. I sit nearby with the computer and note any feedback she gives verbally. (The worse the story/characters, the more verbal the feedback.)

After she has finished we discuss what has come out of it and how we might change any problems.

Second draft

I do the typing, making changes based on our notes and discussions.

There are some major changes between drafts one and two. The story gets moved around, characters are chopped, new characters added. We make a lot of changes to cover plot-holes, and that often takes us in different directions, too.

By the end of draft two we generally have a story. Rough, but pretty much in place.

These are major drafts, I might add. There are plenty of minor drafts in between, and lots of revisions ongoing.

Draft 3

By the third draft we’re looking at characterisation. Fleshing out the characters to make them more rounded, changing their behaviour to make them behave more in character. Would Scott behave this way? How would Blade react to that? and so on. By this time we have a pretty good idea of what makes these people tick, and we can use that to give depth to the story.

I’m very light on some of the emotions, so Sherylyn often comes in here and starts adding ’emotive’ passages.

Along the way we fill in minor plot holes.

Draft four

Draft four is the first major spelling and grammar review, plus we try to tidy up all the little loose ends that still exist.

If we’ve done all right here we find the second part of the novel harder to review than the first, because by half-way through we become immersed in the story and tend to simply read the story, rather than review it.

This draft is difficult too, because we know the story off by heart now. We have re-read it so often that we read what we expect to see, rather than what is actually there.

Draft five

In an ideal world there is at least six months between this draft and the previous one.

With time comes the distance that allows us to approach the story as a new one. Typos, bad grammar and missing words jump out at us.

Into the post

If we think the story’s saleable, we then write a query and a synopsis, and put it into the post, doing the rounds of any agents who may be interested in that type of book.

The query and synopsis are hardest for us. We’re not good at cutting 100,000 words down to 200. Each of these goes through a number of drafts too, usually being refined just before the manuscript is sent out to the next agent. This is one area we really have to improve on.

This method of writing works for us, and between us we turn out better stories than each of us does individually.

Ted Elliot, in his Wordplay article Me & My Ampersand describes how he and Terry Rossio work as a team. To paraphrase Ted …

When I’m writing a scene, the person I’m trying hardest to impress, the one whose opinion I value most, is (Sherylyn). I want (her) to read it and be floored … Because I know that if the scene works for (her), if it impresses (her), it’ll work for an audience. (Sherylyn) is my harshest critic—but also the one I respect the most.

And ultimately, that’s the most important thing about a writing partner. Find a writer you respect, whose abilities you envy—and hope he or she feels the same about you.

Ted Elliot Me & My Ampersand

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