Friday, February 8, 2013

Collaboration Temptation

All writing is collaboration to some extent. Critiques, beta readers, editors - everyone has an opinion on how to improve your story - and presumably, you're assimilating some of that information and applying it. But that's a far cry different from the act of seeking out another writer (or writers) with the intent of producing a story culled from more than one brain.

That last kind of collaboration, I don't do. Right now. But once upon a time, I did.

You can stop looking. You'll never find the book. It was published and sold as a charity fund raiser. Readers enjoyed the story and the admittedly tiny print run sold out. We made over a thousand dollars for the charity. Win all the way around. The most important part? This was a collaboration between three different authors. We did this book, had a great time, laughed a lot, and we're all still speaking to one another more than a decade later.

That last part can't be taken for granted. We all hear horror stories about collaboration projects destroying friendships.

This one could have. It didn't because we had a few assets on our side.
  1. Trust - we'd never met in person, but we'd corresponded via email and talked on instant messaging. We knew we were generally like minded.
  2. Track records - I was a wannabe writer, so was one other lady. Our third was actually the one who'd proposed the project in the first place. Our track records came from a long history of story telling on a email loop we all belonged to. From our previous posts, we all knew what to expect from one another from a story-telling standpoint.
  3. And we set one stringent rule before we started: NO writing someone else's character.
Yep. This was an adventure with three main characters - each of us controlled one. When it was my turn to write an installment, I did so from MY character's point of view. I could write dialog for the characters so long as the words I put into other main character's mouths didn't significantly alter the plot. I could also write for the bad guys - any of us could. Hard? Eh, it was a challenge, but it wasn't as tough as it sounds. The issue was that our characters were already established elsewhere. The adventure we collaborated on took these characters and joined them together for a romp through Scottish myth and legend. It started with one writer approaching the rest of us with a bare bones plot arc: x happens which leads to y. We all agreed it sounded like fun and brainstormed as a group to flesh that out until we had a few more details - but not so much that we were writing to a script. Each of us identified certain scenes we REALLY wanted to write, so the other two would write right up to the beginning of one of the prize scenes and stop so the person who wanted to write the scene could grab it and run.

Did I mention we did this live? By which, I mean to say, each episode we wrote was written in email and published to the larger group - no edits, no approval from the other authors. It all happened on the fly as a three-way, intertwined improv that unfolded across several days of intense reading and writing. And it worked brilliantly.

We'd left ourselves enough room in the plot arc to allow for surprises. None of us wrote anything so long and involved that it left the other two no where to go. All three writers had a knack for ending an episode on a point of tension so that the other two had a place to hook into and move the story forward. There's a talent in improv - a certain openness, a willingness to say 'yes' to whatever someone hands you. I think that's necessary in collaboration, too. It certainly worked for us.

When it works, collaboration is great fun.
When it doesn't, it's soul-killing.

I'd do it again, I think. If the right project and the right people came along. Making it sound like an affair. And maybe that's what collaboration is to me - a fling - one that would take someone and something extraordinary to seduce me away from my mostly monogamous relationship with my stories...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like it was a lot of fun, especially when you liken it to improv.

    "...a willingness to say 'yes' to whatever someone hands you..."

    It's like a total abandon of discretion, a pure good time. I'm suddenly very curious what it would be like to read such a thing, but I feel it would be something like watching improv.

    Although, I don't blame you for not trying again. It's a miracle that the collaboration worked as well as it did, especially since you never met in person.