Writing your own novel has its challenges—creating a logical plot and doing all the research yourself, struggling with self-doubt, no second pair of eyes to spot your glaring errors, and all the pitfalls of not having an automatic accountability buddy.
But working on a creative writing collaboration is a whole new ball game. Whereas, before, any extra eyes belonged to advisors, in a collaboration, they belong to story co-creators. If you had never relinquished control of your story, you would be in for an awakening.
I’ve been working on a writing collaboration for about one and a half months now. It was designed as a relay, were Writer A would write chapter 1, writer B would do chapter 2, and so on.
What I pictured
The challenges I imagined before engaging in the project were at odds with the real issues that surfaced.
Conflict of voice
I imagined that the writers’ different voices would result in disjointed storytelling. But this was hardly noticeable. Yes, writing styles were different, in that some writers preferred more dialogue in their prose than others, but it was never a jarring difference.
I thought there was high likelihood of suffering from writer’s block or just getting stuck. I imagined being given a story I couldn’t continue and having the stress of a deadline looming over my head. But the opposite happened. When I was given the story, I immediately knew the direction I wanted to take. I was brimming with more ideas than I could note down quickly enough.
What really happened
When four writers, who have never met, come together to write one story, they can all be proud of and can comfortably write, disagreements will certainly arise. Different writers have experience in different genres. They have differing opinions on what counts as a good book.
We decided to discuss a basic plot/ story. This was the toughest stage. Can you imagine a sci-fi/ fantasy writer trying to discuss plot with a drama lover? Not being in the same room didn’t help matters. It is quite difficult to express your passion for something through texts.
With academic and work projects, you rely on logic to discount a colleague’s point. But what of creative fiction? How do you tell another writer that their suggested plot doesn’t sit well with you? Everything appears subjective (superficially, anyway). Any point you give is your opinion. How do you call something nonsensical, without calling it nonsensical? I guess that’s how lawyers must feel.
It took some creativity, loads of stress and convincing examples to employ logic in discounting ideas. Though a comfortable compromise was reached, the road toward it was fraught with physical and psychological pain.
We’re not all going to love each other’s writing, not to mention that most first drafts are bad. And most times, it takes a separate party to identify your writing errors.
As I went through the chapters, I saw glaring redundancies, lots of telling (instead of showing), needlessly convoluted descriptions, inappropriate word use, speeches (instead of dialogue), unnatural actions . . . and the list went on.
When you know you know something, it almost claws under your skin, trying to force its way out. But, in a collaboration, you can’t start hacking away at scenes and rewriting sections—you can only advise.
Coming up with an appropriate title for your own book is always maddening. Now picture four writers going back and forth on a title they would all love. Whether literal or vague, the title has to convey the genre/ story. The possibilities become countless. Should it focus on the protagonist’s journey? Should it focus on the setting? Should it focus on the danger? Which words should be included? What would sound deeper/ cooler?
You’ve been intimately acquainted with the errors riddled all over the book—now you need to convince your fellow writers that they actually are errors.
How do you tell someone to cut out their info dump? We all get attached to that “interesting” backstory we wrote for a minor character, which has absolutely nothing to do with the story. So how can you convince someone to hack out one page of this backstory?
In this case, logic was easier to implement, through rational argument and resources defining what an info dump is, how it annoys the reader, and how to avoid it. But, as with all humans, the ego can surface to ignore industry expert advice.
Lessons learnt . . . so far
- It is easier to work with writers you know, or who’s writing style you’re aware of, otherwise, there is needless contention because of misunderstandings.
- We must all accept our strengths and weaknesses. Our individual strengths applied to our story will only make it better.
- We must gladly accept constructive criticism. It can only make us better writers. If you insist on writing the same way you’ve always written, how can you ever improve? Remember, you’re not writing for yourself (most times), you’re writing for your reader.
- I found an awesome novel writing/ editing resource. It talks about EVERYTHING.