[tsat home] [#24] [editorials]
The Incredible Two-Headed Scribblemonger
by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
©2002 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved

There are those who claim that every act of literary creation is collaborative. The idea is that each reader brings their own ideas and emotions to what they read, and each reader's reaction to a given story is uniquely personal. Me, I can see where this notion is coming from, but I disagree. While telling a story is collaborative, for the reason given, the act of writing a story is distinctly singular -- it's just you and the blank page, brother.

At this point, some of you may be asking yourselves "If this geek thinks writing is so gosh-darned singular an act, how does he explain collaborations?" There's a couple of possible answers. One: There are many different aspects of writing skill, and nobody is good at all of them. Thus, if you work with someone who is strong in areas where you aren't, and vice versa, the two of you have a good shot at creating a story that would be better than either of you could do alone. Two: Writers are social animals, just like every other human being. And when two writers get together socially, odds are that they'll be trading story ideas within 5 minutes, or sooner if there's alcohol involved. Collaboration is just a natural outgrowth of that kind of thing.

Now, I happen to have a little experience with collaboration, and here are some pieces of advice I've found helpful as regards the care and feeding of coauthors...

I Thou Shalt Write
This one should go without saying; if you aren't writing, you're not co-writing. So both of you have to carry your share of the load. Of course, there's more than one way to do that. If John Doe dreams up all the plotlines and characters and situations, while Richard Roe does all the actual writing in accordance with an outline provided by John, they're both carrying their share of the load.
Bottom line: If you're letting the other guy do the lion's share of the work, you're not doing it right.
II Thou Shalt Co-Write
No, this is not redundant. If doing too little is a problem, so is doing too much. After all, if you're not going to let the other guy do anything, what's the point of collaborating with him? Ideally, you want to divide up the work 50-50, and exactly what constitutes 50% of the work is up to you guys to decide.
III Thou Shalt Communicate With Thine Coauthor
Another one that really ought to go without saying. If you want to write a story with John Doe, by God write that story with John Doe! Let him know what you're thinking about. If the manuscript leaves any doubt regarding why Character X performed Action Y, tell your coauthor why you wrote it like that. If you've thought of some spiffy new "bit" to incorporate into the story, tell him what it is. If you've changed something that had previously been settled, let him know what, and why.
In this context, I've found it useful to insert color into manuscripts. That way, my coauthor can easily zero in on the "hot spots" without having to slog through pages and pages of irrelevant material. Red text is the stuff I've added most recently; blue strikeout text is material I feel should be removed; and [green text in brackets] is editorial comments, explanatory remarks, or pretty much anything else I want my coauthor to know about.
IV Thou Shalt Respect Thine Coauthor
The other guy isn't you, and vice versa. This proposition is obvious... but some of its corollaries are less so. Since he's not you, it follows that he may not share all of your opinions on every topic; in fact, he might be horrified by some things you like, or even enjoy some things you can't stand. Maybe you think his flavor of religion is silly at best.
Guess what? This works both ways. So please, be courteous and try not to hit your coauthor's 'hot buttons'.
V Thou Shalt Not Commit A 'Mary Sue'
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a 'Mary Sue' is a super-duper über-character that can do no wrong and whose presence makes all other characters redundant, if not downright pointless. In the context of Star Trek fan fiction, Mary Sue is smarter than Mr. Spock; has more empathy than 'Bones' McCoy; can take Captain Kirk two falls out of three; and has bedded all three of them within the first 25 pages.
Mary Sues make for truly bad writing, so the best thing to do is not commit one in the first place! Unfortunately, those miscreants who most need that advice are the least likely to heed it. So if your coauthor insists on dropping a Mary Sue into what could otherwise have been a pretty good story... at least you'll know better next time.
VI Thou Shalt Thicken Thine Skin
This one is the flip side of Respect Thine Coauthor. Just as you shouldn't go out of your way to give offense to your coauthor, so should you not go out of your way to be offended by him. If he's the kind of guy you'd like to work with in the first place (which he presumably is, else why would you be trying to do just that?), don't assume that whatever insult or act of disrespect was intentional. For all you know, the guy is clueless about whatever-it-is, so be tolerant, and if correction is indicated, do so gently.

[tsat home] [#24] [editorials]