A Two Headed Dragon Has to Eat
edited: Friday, August 01, 2003
By James J. Marry
Posted: Friday, April 11, 2003
Become a Fan
Writing with another author can be a grueling exercise. Experience can help you lay the groundwork- and miss some obstacles that can only slow you down.
A Two Headed Dragon Has to Eat
Writing Fiction with a Partner and Remaining Sane
My premise here conforms very closely to the experience I have with working on unified projects and another writer. The few times that I have tried to make this relationship effective runs a medium success rate with complete failure as the second option. I admit that I have some weird romantic streak in me that nudges me to believe that there is some promise in attempting to write with other creative minds. I know that there is gold in them hills. The activity does carry some risks with it though, and I think I may be able to direct some of you around the icebergs that my ocean liner has found.
Every writer that I have ever known has had to battle with some severely confusing challenges. We all desire very strongly to find that our works are popular. Most of us even look forward to hearing from readers. And we are especially engaged when we receive accolades from other writers. In my own experience, I have had the good fortune to experience this entirely and I think that I must admit that I have always been motivated by my own hope in this regard. This is not my only driving force, I fear that would dull my fiction to unreadable, but it does enter into the mix.
In part, due to this ambition, I have learned that during down time- and I will admit there isn’t a lot of that- I find some enjoyment in reviewing starting author’s new works. This activity is not for everyone, but the sense of putting some writer on a new road to his or her goal leaves me warm and tingly inside. Don’t believe for a moment that every encounter I get works out like that. Some of the pages that I receive are fairly frightening and make me rethink my system of assistance again and again. But generally the experience is very pleasant.
Occasionally, I get to read an author with towering inspiration and wit. The story at its base has every bit of life that I hope my own fledgling ideas could breathe. A writer hasn’t paid their dues of thousands of pages in useless manuscript and uncountable rejection slips and the product shows it. They require a good deal of practice and usually some education. This holds true for everything I read from pulp to classical fiction when I first sample the writer’s tender. Most of these authors are very anxious to review my commentary on their talent for the art that I demand they must love before even attempting to receive my assessment. And I definitely understand that. I mean, let’s face it. I am certainly NOT Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or Stuart Woods. The writers in question see me as approachable because I don’t ring with that level of notoriety. They have always read something of my work though, and they know that I have a knack or talent for putting the idea on paper and making music. Some have even purchased and read my novel.
With that line of thinking, I continue on the crooked path implied by my title with some caution. As with an earlier piece I wrote on the art of writing, I hope that your desire is to learn about a new approach towards partner writing. You won’t agree with everything that I say, but you might just snap up one kernel of brilliance that will make your exercise more pleasurable or at least something less tedious. Partner writing can be highly rewarding on a creative note and it can also open many doors on your path to becoming successful as a writer. Timothy Le Haye must have had some very strong concerns before he began the Left Behind series with his co-writer.
A little planning can take you and your partner a long way and I pray that you read many articles or even books on this subject before you begin the work. I write because I love to write. I have to write and I want nothing to get in the way of that- not even a formidable partner.
This brings me back to the author with the talent, wit and newness who says to me: “I know this story has legs, James. I just wish that I were better at telling it.”
Bear with me, as you might not see this as the first sentence in a plea for partnership. Most times it certainly is not. More times than I have counted though, I see a following note, letter or e-mail asking if I have ever considered co-authoring a novel before though. And once in every ten times that I get one, I strongly consider the proposition. Obviously, I don’t say “yes” to all of them. I have agreed to a few though.
The first thing to realize here is that there are two completely different writers involved in this equation. One is a published novelist who tends to break conventions and deals with some plain spoken and notably physical characters. Not exactly my own words, but reviewers tend to look at me more objectively than I can myself. My first novel was very graphic with sex and violence on levels that Harold Robbins could have deplored. Though I have aged to mellow with the same flavor, I would not allow you to ignore that this is something the other writer will know very clearly prior to contacting me with this grand opportunity.
On the other end of the table is a writer with a solid front to back idea. The story begins. The story is interesting. The story ends. And the characters even wiggle. He or she just doesn’t know quite how to tell the story and give the tale “pop”. Never underestimate this author though. Since they are the ones who chose to contact “you”, your ability to look down your nose from on high is a direct reflection upon yourself. In other words, since you are judging them- you are probably judging your own writing as well.
With that said, I strongly recommend that the second step in your process be defining your roles in the project. The first step being to agree to work on the project together. If neither of these writers knows what to expect from the other then the relationship is as likely to fail as one between a mouse and a snake. You simply must set up boundaries and schedules or you will perish. Let’s start with the seasoned writer and call him or her Able. We can call the concept writer Will.
Will has an idea and he contacts Able since he has some familiarity with the work and he sees that he would like to write like Able someday. I think some admiration of the writer in style or voice is a must, though achievement is unnecessary. Able sees the idea and the gears begin to turn. “This is good stuff!” Able says to Will, “Okay. Let’s try to make this project come to life.” Realistically, this all means nothing until the next step and probably the third, fifth or ninth step actually takes place- but it is a beginning with limited promise.
I think that Able must lay out his terms to Will in short notice. Will must be firm in his conviction since the project must depend on the relationship these two writers build. And since Will has never (most likely) completed an assignment from beginning to end, Able has to take the reins- for now. Able must be the Supervising Editor for the fiction and Will must be the Creative Editor. Their duties are very distinct and should be regimented for time and for performance. For the purposes of this article, let’s give this project a time line of one year. This number is entirely arbitrary and for my own tastes probably twice as long as I might suggest, but it will work well for this purpose.
To set this figure reasonably, we really must analyze Will a little further. Being a novice with regards to writing, Will probably has a different career for the purpose of putting bread on the table. His time is limited. If the story seems to Will that it will run 350 pages (and at this point guessing is about all one can do) then we can assume there could easily end up being 450. Using a year as our frame, you could plan that two of the weeks will be wasted- that leaves fifty to work. I recommend you advance two weeks for debate, since the authors will find places that they get “stuck” on concepts, ideas, endings or characters. This leaves forty- eight. Every week will require that Will spend some energy on that career thing and he probably has a life too. If Will disciplines himself to three hours of work on two nights per week with one six hour day then he can give 12 hours a week to writing. If two hours of writing per week gets donated to thinking then our year project gives Will a total of 480 hours until the year is gone.
Before any real writing begins, Able must receive a complete outline of the story. This outline beginning with Will breaks down the story first with a basic summary of concept and clear beginning, locale, characters, and ending. The summary should be somewhere close to two pages long in double spaced 12-font type. My own preference is Georgia type but many writers will use Times Roman. Either is suitable and with Will and Able using different fonts some organization is a given enhancement since either can know the rewrite stage that needs to take place simply by looking at the type style.
From this summary, Able can begin to write the outline with continuous feedback from Will. If geography is not the issue, I suggest that this stage could helpfully take place with both parties in the same place. This is not a must, but it could smooth out the time factor that erupts when Able and Will work on the outline from different places. A Messenger program and Internet connections is a must if you choose not to get together to write the outline.
The outline will become the Bible for the writing of this novel. Every chapter will be listed with three to four sentences listing the goals of each. For example, the first chapter of Will and Able’s novel about James the Apostle might read as such:
Chapter One: James is a child accompanying his father and mother to the temple in Jerusalem. Zebedee, James father, has been waiting for a savior for his people and hears that Joseph and Mary are at the temple with their child Jesus, who some Jews have said will be that savior. Zebedee and James meet Joseph and lose track of him after their blessings at the temple. Zebedee is convinced that the child may truly be the Son of God.
The story can be written from front back for this chapter and gives the most meaning to each intended goal. The sentences clearly state target issues for the chapter in regard to characters, locales, relationships and events. Great space is left for the author to allow him to paint the picture from this rudimentary breakdown.
Now, I don’t claim that my own outlines will always end the same way that they look when I first write them. I must however say that with two authors, changing the outline can be very intrepid. Try to stick to the outline and if you need to change it, whether you are Will or Able, stop the writing process and go back to having that head to head work out. I emphasize that your first agreed upon outline should say everything you intend to portray though. Any changes should be minimal or you will find yourselves starting all over again. Then the writing can begin.
Able knows very well that the lion’s share of writing a good novel is not in turning out the first drafts. The initial pieces must come from the Creative Editor and they need to come quick. Able must demand that Will can write no less than 20 pages of manuscript in the first week of draft. If Will can’t, then the deal must be a no- go. And any work Will sends to Able must absolutely be finished since rewriting any work that Able is “supervising the editorial” of during Able’s process will be entirely counter-productive.
This is a very important point. If Will writes the first twenty pages and he then decides that he didn’t hit a spot well or has additional information to include, then any work that Able does becomes void. Will, in fact, then is destroying Able’s efforts to refine the twenty- page beginning. If this begins or continues, then Able must bow out of the arrangement. Remember that the outline is the partnership’s Bible and this rule can buoy the ship towards its destination. In fact, if Will can start Able’s chore with a complete chapter then the process will be even better.
While Able is reconstructing Chapter One, Will can write Chapter Two. Able’s time is at a premium though, since Will should see the rewrite before he completes Chapter Two. The flow is the issue with this rule and where Able will control flow, Will must be a part of it. The beginning rough pages will certainly control the quality of the finished work chapter by chapter. The finished novel will depend on this synchronicity in total though both parties can expect a rewrite once all of the chapters come together mechanically. Don’t allow yourselves to believe that you are finished once you confirm that you have told the story in accordance with your outline. This is rarely true .
Now, logically you may both believe that novel is complete once you have written the chapters that you have initially proposed. I understand that. I think you need to step out of your author’s at this time and read your work. Often, you will find that there is something that needs to be added- not necessarily to the outlined draft, but as an enhancement. For example, to our story of James; we have written a story that begins with James as a child and followed his life until his martyrdom. The novel reads well enough and totals 322 pages. This makes for a short novel should the work be published and that may not be a bad idea. But let me propose that enhancing the work through a secondary character’s perspective might just enable your work to endear more readers to the piece. In this case, the obvious choice is to be sure that any character you use to do so be very close to James- for example, his father- Zebedee- or his brother- John- another apostle.
Surely, in the given outline, neither of these characters will have a major role. After all, the story is about James and his relationship and feelings regarding his faith and Savior- not to mention the adventure that carries him to his inevitable end. But as an author I am convinced that you must attempt to avoid creating a stick figure like caricature of your subject character. You should always try to give this hero, if you will, enhancement that will increase his or her depth. His father’s perspective on the events in James’ life or his brother’s advice or the bonded relationship between the three could manage this fiction requirement swimmingly. Remember that Milton’s “Moby Dick” is just a tale about a man and a fish if he don’t hear of Ahab’s crew, his ship, the sea or his past. Even if you have 322 pages that ring softly of an apostle and his Lord and Savior, you can humanize James further with his other qualifying life concerns- ergo Zechariah and John’s influence for this story. Even James’ mother Mary could be used.
Realize that before the two of you continue on this path, you will need to review your outline and decide where the enhancements can take place. Don’t foolishly make a large portion of the book into an enhancement. Think of your readers. They read an involving story of James for sixty pages and then “BAM”, they begin on a thirty- page representation of John and his thoughts about his brother. Bad writers, I’d say. Look at the one line I added to Chapter One’s outline and see if that helps.
Chapter One: James is a child accompanying his father and mother to the temple in Jerusalem. Zebedee, James father, has been waiting for a savior for his people and hears that Joseph and Mary are at the temple with their child Jesus, who some Jews have said will be that savior. Zebedee and James meet Joseph and lose track of him after their blessings at the temple. Zechariah is convinced that the child may truly be the Son of God. Zechariah explains to James his belief and the two pray that James will follow the way of Jesus as Savior.
We’re only on the first chapter of the story and that leads us to be diminutive regarding a major sub-character. But you might be able to see where the involvement of Zebedee has our pair of writers headed. Zechariah will poke his head into our story to elaborate on the involvement that James continues to have with Jesus Christ. Promote this concept to gain a highly desirable read and only add some thirty pages to your piece. Then, of course, you can start this step again and see if you might add another perspective to James’ voyage with the Lord.
This is really where the two-headed dragon gets fed. The work is complete and enhancements have been added. Get it read and see what others think. Then decide what the work still might need. Maybe you have it right. Maybe you don’t. Until you have it published, keep your mind open. Once it gets in print, you’re done until interviews get going. Might be a best seller and your partner and you will be famous. We’re writers and we’re supposed to dream- even when it comes to feeding multi-headed dragons.
James Marry writes for Florida Travels and his novel Shut Up is available on most sites- just plug in the author's name on your browser. Many available short fiction pieces are available on AuthorsDen with other helpful and inspirational articles. Contact James with assignments or purchases at jamesmarryprod.yahoo.com.
Web Site: authorsden.com/jamesjmarry
Want to review or comment on this article?
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!
|Reviewed by Steve Beres
|I find Mr. Marry's comments to be the Gospel (no pun intended). James has a complex intellect (read him slowly) and over the last three years I can say that his observations about most any subject are carefully thought-out and 'write on!'.
I am currently helping an old friend with his writing, and I feel the old friend may ask to colloborate on a novel. Forewarned by mr. Marry, I shall give that second thought.