Adventures in Co-writing
by Lou Sylvre and Anne Barwell
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Although this is our second published co-written book, The Harp and the Sea was our first foray into co writing, and an interesting project to figure out how we’d make it work.
Lou is in the US and I’m in New Zealand, so the first thing we did was set up a regular chat schedule, so we could chat in real time to hash out character details and where we wanted to go with the plot. Between that we kept in touch with email.
Writing a story set in another time and place meant we not only had to juggle plot and character but also location, history, and language. We’d read enough of each other’s writing to know that our styles would mesh, and decided the easiest way to approach this project was to take a character each and write his POV. So I wrote Ian’s POV, and Lou wrote Robbie’s.
As we traded scenes back and forth, it was with the caveat that we could tweak our character’s dialogue and actions. As it turned out we didn’t need to do a lot of that as we got to know both men the more we wrote them. And, when as we wrote more and got into the fun geographical research and plotted routes and journey times, we ended up changing a few scenes, and re-writing them to mesh with our research so only writing from one character’s POV went out the window. As we got into publisher edits and proofs, I couldn’t remember what I’d written or hadn’t and couldn’t pick the difference between our two ‘voices.’ I’d got the same feedback from our beta readers.
As we got into this story we both got hit with a lot of real life and family issues, so had to put the project on the back burner for months at a time. Because of this, we decided early on that we needed to plot the story in much more detail than we’d normally do. We already had an overview, but we had several sessions on chat breaking it down to chapters and scenes, and working out which scene would work better from which character’s POV. For example, there’s several scenes where Robbie is unconscious so it definitely worked better to have Ian tell that part of the story.
Naturally our characters did what most characters do once you get into a story and they changed parts of the plot on us, so our well thought out chapter numbers disappeared into the sea along the way, but the final result is a better story. I wouldn’t go into a co-written story without a firm plot in mind, as it’s important to be heading for the same finish line, although I think leaving room for creativity and being open to change is essential.
I’d had a nasty experience with Google docs crashing and taking a lot of work with it, so I was wary of tempting fate with it again so we decided to go old fashioned and use word.
We ran into a bit of fun with that as we were using different versions of it and edits I’d made sometimes disappeared in Lou’s document when they were merged so it worked better to send the same document back and forth and write the story like a round robin. Lou would write Robbie’s POV up to the point where it was Ian’s turn to tell their story, then send it over, and vice versa. As we weren’t alternating chapters, sometimes I’d write several thousand words before returning it, and sometimes it would only be a short scene. There were also a few scenes that didn’t quite go the way I was expecting. But I figure that’s one of those signs that the characters and their story are taking on a life of their own, which is one of my favourite things about writing.
The big thing I’d stress with co-writing is that both authors need to have good compromising skills, and know when to push for something, and when to let it go. Egos need to be left at the door or the experience won’t be a pleasant one.
We’ve enjoyed sparking off each other, and building something new so much we’re planning more in The Magic in the Isles series, and also took some time in the middle of writing this to co-write a New Zealand Romance too.
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