Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Smoke and Mirrors

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

One of the most frequently asked questions Lynn Sholes and I get is “How is it possible for two people to write fiction together?” The answer is: it ain’t easy. At least it wasn’t at first. Collaboration on non-fiction is somewhat easier to understand. In general, with non-fiction, usually the “facts” already exist and the collaborators’ job is to organize them into a readable document that has a beginning, middle and end. A good outline and knowledge of the subject matter along with professional writing skills may be all the authors need.

But with fiction, nothing exists. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Fiction is a product of an individual’s imagination. It might be inspired by actual facts or events, but only the individual writer has a specific vision of those events in his or her head. So how can two people have a similar enough vision to be able to write a novel?

I can’t speak for the handful of other writing teams out there, but Lynn and I have managed to complete 7 novels together because of a number of reasons.

First, we love the same kind of books—the ones we read are like the ones we write.

Second, we have an unquestioning respect for each other’s writing skills and a deep belief that whatever one of us writes, the other can improve upon it.

Third, we believe that there’s always a better way to write something.

Fourth, we never let our egos get in the way of a good story. This comes from spending over 10 years together in a weekly writers’ critique group.

Fifth, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to admit them.

Sixth, we agree on the same message in each book.

Seventh, we believe that we are on the same level of expertise.

And last, we believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Those points cover the mental portion. Now, how do we handle the mechanics of the job? We talk, and talk and talk. Once a day we conference call, brainstorming and telling and retelling each other the story. Our two favorite words are: What if? Whether it’s global plot points or an individual scene or character motivation, we keep telling each other the story until that little imaginary movie in our minds becomes as in sync as possible. Then one of us will declare they have a “handle” on the scene or character or chapter, and create the first draft.

We write very slowly because each chapter must go back and forth many times for revision. Years ago, when we first started, everyone who read our drafts could tell who wrote what as we tried to write our first book. It took three years of hard work before we melted our voices together. Now, because the process goes through so many revisions, even I can’t always remember what I wrote and what Lynn wrote. I rely on my co-writer so much that I’ve come to wonder how individuals can possibly write a book on their own.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to collaborating. A disadvantage is that you split any money you make. So you'll always make half of what you could as a single author. And like any relationship, there is always a chance of a falling out. And something could happen where an ego can become inflated and affect the process.

One of the pluses is that we never experience writer’s block. One of us will always have an idea on how to get out of a jam or move the story forward. And unlike our family, friends, trusted beta readers, and everyone else, a co-writer has an intimate, vested interest in the success of the story that no one else could have.

Lynn and I are working on our eighth book together. I’ve found that creating the first draft of a chapter is just as exciting as getting a new chapter from her and seeing where the story has gone from her perspective. I guess the whole thing boils down to trust. Trust in each other and in the goals we both want to achieve with the story and with our careers.

I truly believe that the old adage of two heads being better than one is true when it comes to writing our novels.

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shield-cover-smallTHE SHIELD by Sholes & Moore is now available in print and e-book.

“THE SHIELD rocks on all cylinders.”
– James Rollins,New York Times bestselling author of THE EYE OF GOD.

Coming soon in audio.

24 comments:

  1. Come on, Joe. No Vulcan mind melding going on? It would take a special relationship to get you through so many novels. You write beautifully tovether.

    It would be interesting to hear Kris/PJ's take on this. Sisterly affection/abuse might play a different part.

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  2. Thanks for the compliment, Jordan. Unless you can Vulcan mind meld over the phone, not much of that here. In fact, I haven't seen Lynn in person in over 5 years. But we brainstorm daily. I'm sure Kris can chime in here about her writing relationship with Kelly. They are an awesome writing team.

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    1. Hate to bring this up, Joe, but what if Lynn is only one of those voices in your head? The "phone calls" could be from the Twilight Zone. Think about it.

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    2. Now that I think about it . . .

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  3. I love this post, especially because I'm working on my first collaborative project now. Thanks for the inside scoop on how you make it work!

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    1. Best of luck with the project, Diane.

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  4. Wow, Joe, this is a really interesting topic.

    I love the idea. It's like an ultimate personal critique group with a communal product.

    I particularly like your description of the mechanics of the process - daily communication on EVERY point. Wow! As a beginner, it would be so helpful to have somebody with a vested interest checking every move you make.

    I would think over time, it could actually speed up the process, with two people writing. If it's not, your book is getting over twice as much editing as one written solo. And even though you split the proceeds, you have two people working at the marketing.

    Your post has me excited about exploring your books. And if you run into any beginners with a serious passion about learning the craft, who are looking for somebody to work with (background - medical, woodworking, knowledge of the Amish and farming), send them my way.

    Thanks for your post!

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    1. Will do, Steve. I wish I could say the process is quicker with two people writing, but it's usually the other way around. It's still worth the lose of writing speed to always have a partner to rely upon.

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  5. Yesterday, I got a royalty check from Amazon Canada for $1.56. Kelly told me I didn't have to send her share to her this time.

    Other than having to split the bounty, I love having a co-author.

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  6. Seriously, the one thing I would add to Joe's excellent post is that if you going to collaborate, make sure you have a legal partnership agreement. It doesn't have to fancy but it does have to spell out things like what happens if you dissolve the relationship, what the royalty split is, who owns the pen name if you use one, and what happens if one of you dies. (do your half of the right revert to the partner or the partner's heir?) Lots of things to consider...

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    1. Sound additional advice, Kris. Thanks.

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    2. Good point, Kris. This could get complicated for heirs down the road if details aren't well defined too.

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    3. You also have to consider, if you publish with Amazon, who gets the checks because Amazon will pay only one person. The payee has to then issue a 1099 form to the other for taxes. You have to keep a really accurate record...whoever of you is best as this should do it.

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  7. Completely agree with Kris about having a specific agreement. And be clear about the process.

    My one three-book collaboration was a joy, because a) I liked my co-author (and that lasted); b) we divided up the work in a way that played to our strengths; and c) by the end of book 3 I had developed the unified voice Joe talks about, and used it in three subsequent books in the series on my own.

    And now the first book in that series is FREE.

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    1. I recommend everyone click on that link and enjoy your writing, Jim. It will be impossible not to want more.

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    2. I saw the link on Facebook last night. Bought it. Already enjoying it. One of the reasons why this post was so timely.

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  8. I applaud those who can do a collaborative work like this. I'd love to give it a try, but finding the right person to work with sounds like it would be a challenge. On the other hand, back in my stand up days I used to riff off of a partner doing improv, of course that kind of comedy ends up way off track really fast.

    I wonder if Russel Brand would like to partner up on a book?

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    1. Basil, if Brand was looking for a writing collaborator, you would be my first recommendation. Just wonder if he could keep up with you.

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  9. Great post. I couldn't have said it better myself. Liz Lindsay and I have been writing as Jamie Tremain for seven years. We are in the middle of the first draft of our third book. Yes its slow but all the points in this post are how we work together. I am having major writing freeze at the moment but Liz picked up my chapter and away she goes. I'll return the favour when she is bogged down with her day job. Try it, you'll like it.

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    1. Pam, you've described the perfect picture of what collaboration is about. Nicely done.

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  10. Sounds like a great collaboration!

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  11. As your editor for your last two collaborative efforts, THE BLADE and THE SHIELD, I have to agree that whatever your process is, it's definitely working! The combination of cutting-edge ideas, careful research, intriguing premises, and nail-biting plots produce can't-put-down thrillers. And might I mention, it's also a joy to work with you both. Can't wait to read the next one!

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    1. Thanks, Jodie. Great working with you, too.

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