Collaborative Writing

Latest book by K.S. Brooks and Stephen HiseI’m on the verge of publishing my second creative collaboration with K.S. Brooks. Two years ago, if someone had asked me if I would be interested in any kind of collaborative writing project, I would have responded with a vehement NO.

I saw little benefit in such joint endeavors, but could easily see multiple perils. To clarify, I am not speaking here of anthologies, but about a collaborative creative process.

In late 2011, K.S. Brooks approached me about participating in a team writing project with her and two other authors, David Antrobus and JD Mader.

The initial idea stemmed from an observation Brooks had made about some of the really awful books out there that have done quite well in terms of sales. She thought it would be a fun and easy-to-do project – low pressure and low expectations.

I believe my initial response to her was something along the lines of, “I can’t tell you how honored I am that my name sprang to mind when you were looking for someone to write a bad book.”

I knew that wasn’t it. Brooks had not read any of my writing when she asked me to join her Devil’s posse. She made the offer based on the chemistry she, Mader, Antrobus, and I exhibited in our banter back and forth in Book Junkies. Ah, the good old days.

I liked Brooks, Mader, and Antrobus, but I resisted the idea of working on a writing partnership with them. I told her if she couldn’t find anyone else, I’d consider it. Part of the reason I resisted was because I wanted to keep liking Brooks, Mader, and Antrobus. I was afraid that if four creative minds with four different visions collided, the body count could get out of hand. Feelings could get hurt and digital friendships ruined.

The other problem I wrestled with is that I saw such team writing endeavors as contrary to the greatest benefit of being an independent author: being able to render your vision whole without the influence of others.

Brooks persisted in that gentle, ruthless way she has, and I did join the project. Antrobus either changed his mind or forgot to show up, so it was Brooks, Mader, and me working on a project we called Bad Book.

The way this thing worked was that each of us would just jump in and write a few lines as time allowed between our other obligations. There were no assignments, no outline, no deadline, no set ideas of where we wanted to go with the story.

We used a file sharing program called Dropbox, so we could all work within the same document. By the time I came on, somebody had written the first few lines of what looked to be a vampire apocalypse novel. I don’t know if I can say that I have a strong suit, but if I do, I am sure vampire apocalypse isn’t it. I pitched an idea: make the book a multi-genre satire, with each chapter representing an incursion into a new scenario.

So, we spoofed vampire apocalypse, legal dramas, westerns, CSI, soaps, Hitchcock, Dumas, Jules Verne, Jaws – anything and everything we could think of. There was no set schedule. Whoever wrote the beginning passages of a chapter set the tone. The others followed suit. We were each at times writing either a beginning, middle, or end of a chapter. When we finished, we knocked off the rough edges and sent it off to be edited.

The result was a future cult classic. That’s what we keep saying, anyway. I think readers can sense the chemistry and momentum that carries them along the incredibly warped spoof. At this point, I figured Brooks would go into hiding since her reputation as a classically-trained writer would be effectively ruined by Bad Book. But no, shortly thereafter, she approached me with an idea for another book.

This latest collaboration is our chick-lit comedy, Triple Dog Dare. This worked quite differently than the collaboration on Bad Book. Again, we didn’t have a concrete idea of what we wanted to do in terms of the specifics, but we did spend a good deal of time brainstorming the general story idea.

This time, Brooks turned me loose to drive the story line and to craft the twists and turns. She came along in the wake of my destruction and provided shape and form to the text, settings, and dialogue. I would write a chapter at a time, then she would take the story and flesh it out into something readable. In essence, we capitalized on my storycraft and her wordcraft.

I think it worked. We are both pretty pleased with the end product and have received very positive feedback from the beta readers and the ARC reviewers. This weekend, we will hit the publish button and you can judge for yourself.

I have learned a lot from all this. There is more than one way to collaborate. If the creative chemistry is right, you develop synergy and maybe even end up with a better product than either writer would produce alone. It is important to share trust and mutual respect. For us, it is important to be consultative. When all that works, I think it shows in the product.

Creative collaboration isn’t for everyone. Those risks I mentioned in the beginning of the post are very real. There can be problems in team writing if one partner feels the workload and responsibilities are not equitably divided. If one partner’s suggestions keep getting vetoed, it can be a demoralizing experience.

Have you participated in a creative collaboration? Was your experience positive? Would you do it again? What did you learn from it?

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

19 thoughts on “Collaborative Writing”

  1. I once “collaborated” with somebody in an online RPG. He was the gamemaster and I was one of the players. There was no outline, of course, and no hint of what direction things were going in. It drove me crazy. 😀 Never again!

  2. Stephen, thanks for posting; like you, I can’t imagine myself collaborating, so knowing your reluctance (and success), it puts it all in the realm of the possible. I can see how the tag-teaming of the first book would be very much like a non-stop flash fiction challenge, and as a beta-reader of Triple Dog Dare, I know first hand that that particular arrangement worked perfectly. Thanks for the insight!

    1. You are so kind, Melissa! I have a follow-up post coming in 2 weeks. Hopefully it will answer the other questions people have about collaborating. And BTW, I do NOT play well with others – especially after having been blatantly plagiarized by someone in a writers’ group, so this was a stretch for me, as well. As long as you have a partner you know you can work with, or at least blackmail, you should be good to go.

    2. Thanks, Melissa. I’m sure there are many different forms a collaboration can take. Part of whether it works well may have to do with how it is structured.

  3. I’d never collaborate with anyone, but that’s because I’m a miserable bugger. But what you two have done is produce what clever people call “something bigger than the sum of its parts” and it is seriously going to rock 🙂

  4. I did collaborate last year on a children’s book. Someone from the National trust phoned me and asked if I would take part in a volunteer (free gratis) collaboration on a children’s book (8-12 years) about an historical property in Tasmania belonging to the National Trust, called Franklin House. There was four children’s book authors involved at that time. I was, as always, pretty busy and I also pointed out that I wasn’t a children’s writer; however, I can be a bit of a sucker and when it was pointed out that it was for charity, I had come highly recommended, and there were very loose parameters: pick up the thread of the story and write a chapter, taking the story in any direction I wish. Well, let’s not forget that each writer had been given the same instructions and another writer came on board during the time I was sketching out my chapter.

    To cut a long story a little shorter than it might be I’ll cut to the chase: all the chapters were sent to me to write a concluding chapter; I took two chapters to tie everything together and wind it up into some kind of sense. All this was done by email by the way, and some of the formatting of those children’s authors work was quite interesting (and I don’t mean that in a nice way) and all very different, but it was nothing to do with me, it would all get sorted out by an editor; I just tacked my two chapters on the end and sent it back. The next thing, I receive the edited, prepublication copy for approval! Oh… My… God!! Apparently a friend, who was a teacher, had edited it.

    I phoned the person who had originally contacted me and said that there was no way I was going to sign off on it, and the only way it would be going ahead with my name on it was if my editor her way with it first. The project did get finished, and it wasn’t bad, but there is more to the story (not more good either) and I’ve definitely taken up more space on your post than I meant to, but you did ask.

    The children’s book is called ‘A Tumble in Time’. Would I collaborate on something else?… Let me think about that… … … Oh sorry, are you still waiting for an answer?

    Nice post, Stephen, and you, unquestionably, had a better experience than I did with collaboration.

  5. I’ve never tried a serious collaboration, but one of my all time favourite series was the result of a brilliant collaboration between Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. I’ve read solo work they have written and I have to say their collaborative work is miles better.

    Just as an aside, Feist did the storycraft, and Wurts did the word craft and, I think, characterisation. Looking forward to the Hise & Brooks/Brooks & Hise collaboration. 😀

  6. Great post. I’m collaborating on my Jewish vampire books. My husband found himself drafted (please don’t tell him he still thinks he’s just helping out). My real co-writer has had her life go crazy so she hasn’t been as available as planned.

    Plan 1. We’d work out storyline together, she’d write, I’d fix Jewish details, she’d rewrite, I’d go over it, it would go to editor. – plan thrown out

    Plan 2. We’d do it as letters back & forth as is done in “Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot” – plan thrown out

    Plan 3. I’d do everything involved with coming up with a 1st draft calling on her help when I’m really desperate and she will help out when she can (mostly helping me see how my ideas don’t work & editing what I’ve got), husband helps write some of best lines and plotting thanks to his RPG background, she will then go over it, add meat, fix dialogue, refine it, it will go to a proper editor – 18 months later I’m still working on the 1st draft – this is the plan we are working on, I really need to get back to writing it. Sigh.

    I still think its possible to collaborate and would love to do it once I’m a better writer and/or outliner.

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