Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Benjamin Kane Ethridge on Collaborative Writing

As part of DarkEva’s blogtour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s new book Dungeon Brain, Mr. Ethridge graciously agreed to write a guest post. It’s about time we had a little class around this joint.

Collaborative Writing Dos and Don’ts
By Benjamin Kane Ethridge

I’m asked often about the writing process, but never the co-writing process. I’ve co-written an epic fantasy novel, two novellas, a handful of short stories and soon I’ll be working with another writer for a shared world anthology meta-story. Now, while I’ve had some experience in splicing a story together it must be said that I am always learning. Every writer is different and every marriage is different. You have to approach it with a measure of caution, common sense and honesty. First off, you need to know thyself. If you’re still trying to figure out how to write something, it might be difficult to work with another—or, it might be just the thing to teach you something about your own process. I’ve prepared three dos and three don’ts for collaboration that should be considered prior to this endeavor.

DON’T fight with your partner. Suggest your feelings about the direction of the story. If they don’t see it your way, it’s time to make a decision. Will the effect be devastating or irrevocable? If no, then carry on. If yes, do you want to pull out of the project? That’s your decision and it must be made sooner rather than later. Out of respect to your collaborator, you should do your best to find common ground.

DO discuss the trajectory of the story beforehand. It’s okay if you both don’t want to outline, but I suggest at very least knowing what you’re aiming at before you fire the gun.

DON’T leave your partner waiting for long periods of time. Everybody has different lives, different schedules and can write at different velocities, but at least attempt to return your work at a similar rate. If he or she writes twice faster than you, then make an effort to increase your own pace a little. That’s the best you can do. I bring this up for the story’s benefit. While advantageous to wait before returning to edit a piece, I don’t believe it’s helpful to halt creation of a story mid-flow. If you dally too long, you might not only throw yourself off, but another person as well.

DO keep your partner entertained. There’s nothing better than receiving a new portion of the story that ends on a cliffhanger. It gets the story-mind working. Move the plot along and your partner will be eager to pick up on where you left off.

DON’T remove large portions of prose or dialog from your partner’s contributions without careful discussion and justification first. Slipping into the nursery in the dead of night and tossing someone’s baby out the window is way not cool.

DO communicate constantly. Try different approaches to see what works. Do you need to finish a chapter? Reach a certain word count? And where? Do you want to end mid-paragraph, sentence, etc? You will find out how easy or how difficult it is to jump back into a moving story. Some writers get stuck and there is nothing wrong with having your collaborator come up to bat early—in fact, that’s what is truly awesome about collaboration, the two heads are better than one deal. As long as you’re honest and keep those lines of communication going, you’ll be surprised at the tales that these unions can produce.

About the Author: Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books, 2010). For his master's thesis he wrote, "Causes of Unease: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.

1 comment:

Sean McLachlan said...

Interesting advice. I'm not sure collaborative writing is for everyone, though. I've never tried it myself because I'm afraid of too much friction with my coauthor. I tend to write my own thing in my own way and prefer to hang out with other authors for drinks and shop talk, not collaborative projects. I'm impressed that others can do it!