1. Mercissa
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    Mercissa Member

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    How does one co-author a story?

    Discussion in 'Collaboration' started by Mercissa, May 18, 2014.

    I've always wondered how people can co-author a book. It's mind-boggling to me, since a) writers seem like a rare species of humankind, b) writers tend to be very protective of their work and tend not want to share, c) people write in different genres and have different styles, d) along with a whole host of other reasons.

    So, how do you folks do it?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's extremely rare for this to be done successfully... for the reasons you list and many others, as you noted...

    and can lead to all kinds of nasty consequences, if the parties do not have a good, tight collaboration agreement signed and sealed before they write a single word...

    one of my mentees ignored my advice to do so, swearing she could trust her co-author, only to have me sadlyproven right, when the 'trustworthy' creep sold the script under his own name, and she had no evidence to prove he'd contributed only a few 'ideas' and she'd come up with the concept, characters and plot, and had written the entire script!
     
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  3. Mercissa
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    Mercissa Member

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    Oh my goodness! That's terrible! How tight of an agreement would you need to have it? Would an email that indicates that all words/ideas/plot points/characters come from these two co-authors of this said manuscript and therefore must split any rewards derived from this manuscript 50/50 between these two authors suffice?
     
  4. wade-newb
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    wade-newb Member

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    In my opinion, I would never work with someone I hardly know on a novel... or much else. If you are really looking to work with someone, try find them in real life first. A relationship like co-authoring has to be one of mutuality even outside the work, otherwise the writing might feel stunted or awkward. It is a very difficult prospect to write a co-authored novel before you have the means to do just that. Perhaps stick to your own work for a while, sharpen your skills in writing, and if you ever meet someone you could work with, you'd be at a much more proficient level from all your practice.

    I might have gone into too much detail.
     
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  5. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Yeah, the only co-screenwriting deal I've ever known to work was the one I did, where I took a complete script and rewrote large parts of it; and that was probably only because they were shooting in a month and needed the finished draft ASAP, so there was no time for disagreements.

    Otherwise, when friends tried it, it always ended up with one person wanting the other to do most of the work, or just dropping out, leaving the other with a script they can't sell because they didn't have a signed agreement beforehand. I'd imagine co-writing a novel would be similar, unless you're working with a writer who has a proven track record.

    I remember Konrath posting about writing a crossover novel with another writer, where characters from both their series met in the same book; I think he said they wrote alternate chapters using some online collaboration software.
     
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  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i seriously doubt it would hold up in court, if the writers had nothing in writing, signed by both/all parties... emails can too easily be faked...

    i use the wga 'writer's collaboration agreement' that i adapt from screenplays to books, when necessary... it's as tight as can be and will hold up in court...
    http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/collaboration.pdf

    if you want to see how it can be adapted for other uses, just email me and i'll be glad to send you an example...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I co-write with my husband, and I can't quite explain it, but it works. We are completely on the same wavelength, write with the same style, and somehow everything works seamlessly.

    While it does not guarantee decent writing, it's fun and has worked for us for years now. I don't have half the fun when I'm writing alone.
     
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  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTrian - that's pretty special. I wish my husband enjoyed reading fiction - that alone would make me happy enough. I could never write with him lol.

    For myself - I'd never co-author with anyone. Sure I don't mind writing a silly short story with a friend for a couple of hours, but a novel - like, a serious piece of work? No thanks. Not in a million years.

    @mammamaia - oh my word, so what did the girl do!? Surely she had hand-written notes and other things on her computer that proved it was also hers?
     
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  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Like @KaTrian said, we write together, have been for something like 6 years or so, and it was a revelation to me just how seamlessly our minds blend when we get into it. It's so common for one of us to start writing a sentence only for the other one to figure out the exact wording even before it's finished that we don't even notice it much anymore. I'm pretty sure some weird mind-merging has happened over the years or something. :D

    And yeah, we're on the same wavelength about style, the kind of characters we want to write about, the kind of stories we want to tell etc. Sure, just like it is with any artistic endeavor with more than one person, sometimes we do end up arguing over one point or another, but usually it's about the trivial stuff whereas we usually agree on the important plot points etc. and such creative clashes are pretty rare anyway.

    I don't think I could do this with a friend and I'm kinda sceptic I could do it with anyone than Kat. The reason I think it works for us is that we're one of those annoying couples who do everything together simply because for both of us, everything is more fun that way. Likewise, because we live together, we get to work on our stories almost every day, if not actually writing, then at least planning them, discussing character development, plot twists, bouncing ideas back and forth etc.

    Sure, in the beginning we went through several various ways of doing this, but over the years we've settled into a nice routine (esp.now that we have two keyboards/mice connected to the same comp) regarding the ways we format our writing, how we handle POV, description, dialogue between both of our characters etc, so things like formatting are pretty much automatic by now.

    It was a fun experiment when we wrote separate entries for the WF sci-fi short story contest, but it also just proved what we already knew: for us, it's far more enjoyable to write together. Not sure why it works so well, but it does. I just hope the writing works as well (or will, when we get better). At least plotting etc. is a bit easier when one catches the possible mistakes/plot holes etc. that the other might have missed.

    Now, if they only figured out how to have two separate cursors in Windows...
     
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  10. Mercissa
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    Mercissa Member

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    @wade-newb Haha, that's okay. I was just curious because it has never happened to me. I have very few friends who are writers and we write in completely different genres and styles. Plus, our personalities clash. It wouldn't have worked out anyway, even though I've never tried it with them. I'm only asking partially because I was just curious and partially for future reference. Even though I've been writing all my life, I've recently just cemented my goal to work in the publishing field, and obviously, to be a writer on the side. But my small regret is that I'm very extroverted and yet I've picked the most introverted thing to do for my career/passion. So, it wouldn't hurt to learn from others how to make it work and what it's like co-authoring a work.

    @Edward M. Grant I see... when you took the script and rewrote parts of it, were you able to get the background notes of characters/plot points/...etc. from the previous writer? How does it work in terms of the rights? I'd assume the producer bought the rights to the film concept from the previous writer and hired you to finish it for him? Sorry for all these questions. I'm just really curious.
    I see. I'll keep that in mind if I ever end up doing it. Alternating chapters sounds like a good idea. I was thinking before that maybe alternating characters could work too, though I've never tried it.

    @mammamaia Okay... so signed contract and no less... and oh cool! That's very helpful! Thank you! I'm going to save it on my computer. I don't need it right now, but if ever I do, would it be okay to ask you again? :D

    @KaTrian @T.Trian Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun! You two sound like a cute couple. I think maybe it was easier for you because you live together, trust each other and really got to know one another. Haha, the Microsoft cursor thing... when I said "co-author a book", I really didn't imagine it would be two people literally writing it together. I thought people would just bounce the work back and forth or take on the personas of a few of the characters. So yeah, what you have there really is something special... :)
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
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  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTrian @T.Trian - I think the fact that you love and respect each other plays a huge role. You can't work together without respect, and the love helps smooth over any conflicts and differences and keeps you together. Anyway you guys sound so CUTE!! :D It's how it should be *nods*
     
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  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    absent a signed contract/agreement, there was no admissable proof of who originated what... she could have been writing notes on what the other party came up with, so that wasn't an issue... and dates on computer entries can easily be faked, so that wouldn't have helped, either... only a binding contract/agreement could have established and proven her claim to authorship...

    let that be a lesson to any who even consider co-writing anything with anyone!

    absolutely!... any time at all...
     
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  13. FlareWarrior
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    FlareWarrior Member

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    I've seen it work two ways: one person writes a chapter then the next person writes the next chapter, or two people work together on a plot and only one of them writes.
    This can end badly in a number of ways, but sometimes it's awesome. Switching off the chapters gives a clear break between styles and having two people work on a plot gives it new depth. Things fall apart if one author loses interest or they start disagreeing too much however.
     
  14. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Aww, shucks. :D And yeah, we know it's pretty unusual. We haven't encountered any other writing teams who work like this, two people sitting side by side at the same computer, typing on two keyboards, but for us, it's the perfect way to write and so much fun (probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on).

    We do have our own characters and the person whose character's POV we're in is also responsible for most of that part's description (except we both describe the actions/expressions etc. of our own characters), but we do tag-team even with that quite a bit. For instance, I tend to write most of the gun jargon whereas Kat's the expert on anything related to equestrianism, so we do switch back and forth even when it's the other person's POV chapter.

    Now that I think about it, it's not entirely accurate to say we write our own characters: I'd say my male characters are 90% mine, 10% Kat's, and my female characters 70% mine, 30% Kat's depending on how much input she provides for my characters. With her the numbers are vice versa, females 90% hers, 10% mine etc. because we do constantly offer suggestions to one another. Our golden rule is that the person whose character we're discussing makes the final decision whereas the other person can only suggest things.
    Doesn't prevent the occasional conflicts though, but having to defend your position is just good exercise for the brain. :D
     
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  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i know you seem to be happily married and you say writing together works well for you two, but have you signed a collaboration contract that covers whatever you create as co-authors?

    if you don't, you really should, since publishers may require one to assure them there will be no legal battles to deal with down the road, given the odds against marriages lasting 'forever' these days... and the fact that most marriages and writing partnerships do not end amicably...
     
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  16. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @mammamaia, nope, no contract yet. To tell you the truth, it hadn't even crossed our minds yet since we're still working on what we hope to be the final or almost final draft, so we figured it's a bit early to start thinking about the practicalities of getting published, but I suppose a contract like that might be a good move if it'll help reassure agents/publishers.
    I don't want to make too many artistic compromises with the manuscript, but when it comes to pitching/selling it, I'm willing to do just about anything, be it signing a collaboration contract, stalking agents/publishers, becoming an astronaut to etch the story's title on the Moon to make it sell better etc.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i would strongly recommend having a formal, signed agreement in place before starting to query agents or publishers... the one i use with my clients is the WGA standard 'collaboration agreement' that i use for my script services and have adapted to work for books... it's easy enough to do, requires only a few word changes and deleting clauses needed for scripts, that wouldn't apply to a book... or, if you want, you can email me for a copy of the adapted version...
     
  18. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for the tip, @mammamaia, we'll dl a copy. You wouldn't happen to know off the cuff if it applies internationally? I was just thinking if there are some regional problems that might arise since we live in Finland, but would most likely be querying American & UK agents.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it may not have to apply to where you live, but only to where your work will be published... you'll need to consult a local literary attorney on that point...

    that said, if finland is a signatory to the berne convention [which i assume it is], then the copyright laws there will be similar to those in the US and UK... as far as i know, WGA contracts are used by and protect writers in all parts of the world...
     
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