Co-writing is a technique where you have two authors of one story. There are some special challenges that occur when co-writing a story, including communicating about the story, the details of writing it, and blending your writing styles to have a single voice.
Choosing Your Writing Partner and Story
In order to co-write a story, you must find a story and a writing partner where you both want to write a story in the same fandom, and want to write it the same way. For example, Sybil and Winged have co-written some Weiss Kreuz and Tsubasa stories in the past. We like to focus on the same characters, and get excited about the same story ideas. By contrast, Sybil likes to write spy-thriller stories in Gundam Wing, while Winged prefers to write short comedies, assuming he bothers to write for that fandom at all.
Ultimately, you need to find somebody who gets excited about a story idea with you, and wants to feed into the same ideas and direction as you. Further, you must have the same vision for who the characters are, and how they will interact.
Chatting While Writing
Skype is your friend, assuming you can’t be in the same place while writing. When co-writing, it is very important that you collaborate with your partner, and doing it in real-time is the ideal. People talk far faster than they type, so voice chatting is the ideal. If you can’t, for whatever reason, voice chat, there are also tons of programs that let you chat via text, including FaceBook chat, Google Talk, etc. There really is no excuse for not being able to collaborate in real time.
Why would you communicate in real time? Well, let’s say you’re writing your section of the story. You write out the most brilliant piece of prose to ever fly forth from your fingertips, it gets to your partner’s computer, and her response is to delete it and write something else completely. You’ll feel offended that your brilliance was deleted, and that your plot idea was derailed. Talking in real-time avoids that mess. Collaboration is communication and compromise.
Communicating with Comments and Track Changes
So, suppose you’re a pair of thirteen-year olds whose parents will NOT let you chat with strangers. Worse, you live in different time zones, and just can’t sneak in a quick chat. All you have is the power of email. In a case like this, there are a few things you can do.
First of all, you will need to build an outline of your story and agree on it. Communication out of real time requires more planning, starting with your plot. If you need to make a major change, get approval from your writing partner.
Second, there are a few tricks most document editors (Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, etc) provide. First is the ability to insert comments. This can be done either with the comments feature, or by adding colored text. Anything a beta-reader might do to offer feedback can be used by co-writers. Second, you can use the “Track Changes” feature to see who typed what, who deleted what, and you can even approve/reject changes. None of this is ideal, but it’s far better than any other option.
So you’re ready to start writing. The ideal situation is where you both have the same document open at the same time, writing at the same time, making changes at the same time. There are a few ways to do this.
For this essay, we used Google Docs. It lets both of us see/make changes in real time (sometimes with a bit of lag on one side or the other). We have also used AbiWord, which has a similar feature. It can also be somewhat flaky at times. Okay, AbiWord can be a lot of flaky. Another powerful tool, though without the formatting features, is Gobby. It was meant to be a programming editor, but it works well as a collaborative version of Notepad. You can use * or // to mark italics and bold for later.
Try a variety of tools to see what works best for you. It can be somewhat bizarre to be typing away while the other person is following behind cleaning up misspellings and miscellaneous grammar. On the other hand, it can be extremely rewarding.
We worked on a story where we had two documents open and shared. Sybil wrote her story from one POV, while Winged wrote the same story from a different POV. All direct quotes were the same in both stories, but all the action was written from different POVs. It was a fun process that we desperately need to finish :).
One Writer at a Time in Collaboration
One of the things we like to do when traveling is doing “50 Sentences” challenges. There is a list of fifty one-word writing prompts, and each one requires a single-sentence that fulfills that prompt. With one of us driving, obviously only one person can be manning the keyboard. This is a collaboration strategy where one person types, while both discuss. We use this often when sitting in the same room. Winged types faster, so he usually does the typing. He also usually drives, so Sybil does most of the typing in the car.
When writing a story, this will absolutely require real-time communication, probably with both people in the same room, or some sort of screen-sharing application in use (Skype does this). You may need to “hot swap” the keyboard, one person moving aside to let the other person type.
In this scenario, one person writes all or part of the story, then sends the document to the other writer. For example, if one person is great at writing action sequences, and the other writes fabulous smut scenes, you would write what you’re good at, then hand over the document (often via email) to the other person to review what’s been written and moves forward. Our Cyborg 009 story, The Mastermind, was written this way, with Winged writing all the Ivan/001 parts, and Sybil writing everything else – it’s more balanced than it sounds.
Another way this can be done is for one person to write the entire story, then the second person edits/rewrites/adds/etc to it. It goes back and forth between both writers until neither has changes left to make. This is very similar to the beta-reader process, but more intrusive. We’ve written a few stories this way, such as Miyuki-chan in Celes-Land (our favorite crack-fic that we should beaten for). It is, however, far less “collaborative” in feel, and the first draft really should be done as a collaborative effort with some form of voice communication going on. Doing this method requires you to know your writing partner very well. It may be a technique for your beta-reader to move into writing for the first time, for example.
Co-writing can be a very rewarding, or a very frustrating experience. We’ve had own share of failures and successes. We had to try a variety of methods before we found what works for us. An important thing to remember is that you are working with another person with their own thoughts and feelings. It’s important to remember this as you strive for a good writing partnership. Being married helps us co-write, but we still have very different styles at times, and only co-write where it makes sense. Like we’ve mentioned we have had some failures and a few hurt feelings, but we pick up and go on so we can share our love of writing.