There’s still time to enter the giveaway for a three chapter critique from me or a signed copy of Elixir Bound. Right now please welcome Troy H. Gardner and Erin Callahan, authors of Wakefield, book one in the Mad World series, as they discuss working as a writing team.
How can two people write a novel together?
We get that a lot. Though it’s not a method suited for all authors, team writing can have significant benefits. Collaborative writing provides you with a built-in editor, sounding board, and cheerleader who has a deep understanding of your plot and characters. Many authors bounce ideas off friends or loved ones, but there’s only so much someone can offer if he or she doesn’t know the entire landscape of the book or series. When you feel frustrated and drained of ideas, your writing partner can provide a fresh perspective and a creative boost. For those looking to give it a shot, we’ve culled a few practical pointers from our experiences.
1. Avoid teaming up with your creative twin. Though it’s tempting to pick a writing partner with a similar style and interests identical to your own, it pays to branch out. We have some overlapping tastes, but the diversity of our interests expands the creative pool that we pull from. Erin reads a lot of YA fiction and Troy is heavily influenced by comic books and horror movies. We also complement and balance each other’s writing strengths. Troy excels at realistic dialogue and big picture stuff, like crafting interesting and relatable characters that serve as the emotional core of each book. Erin tends to focus more on world building, fleshing out the setting, and developing themes. Troy gets a rush from writing a first draft, while Erin enjoys revising and tightening the story.
The best writing partner is someone you can work with without wanting to kill, but who also brings a variety of influences and ideas to the table and thrives in the areas that don’t come naturally to you.
2. Develop a process that works for your team. Though there are countless systems for team writing, we’ll explain our process. We utilize alternating narrators and each write from a different perspective. Before beginning each book, we create a chapter by chapter outline that contains only basic notes on what we need to accomplish in terms of plot advancement and character development. That gives us a lot of breathing room when it comes to filling in the details of each chapter. Once we have a first draft, we pass it back and forth and revise it until we have something we’re both happy with (the Track Changes feature in Word is incredibly useful for team revising).
This is, of course, just one way of doing it. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, authors of the wildly popular Beautiful Creatures series, don’t use alternating narrators. They use a single narrator and co-write almost everything. That sounds incredibly daunting to us, but apparently it can be done.
3. Balance work with talk. Having lengthy conversations with someone who understands you, your writing, and the ins and outs of your project is one of the primary benefits of team writing. Time spent actually writing is crucial, but don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in exploratory discussions with your writing partner. Some of our best ideas have emerged from long talks about our characters, goals, themes, and influences. Sometimes our conversations are serious and sometimes they feel like goofing off, but they almost always lead to idea generation.
Discussions can also help ensure your team is on the same page. During one conversation, we realized that we had completely divergent ideas when it came to a particular character. The conversation put us back on the same wavelength so we could tackle some of the inconsistencies that had popped up in our manuscript.
4. Be honest. You can’t have a successful writing team unless you both learn to give and take criticism. When we began writing together, we often shied away from harsh critiques because we didn’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. But the more often you give and take criticism, the easier it gets and the better your writing gets. Our first manuscript began to improve dramatically once we got over our fear of being entirely honest with each other.
At the same time that you provide an honest critique, you can also be a cheerleader. Point out scenes, descriptions, or snippets of dialogue that you think work particularly well or had you rolling around on the floor with laughter. Sometimes we are our own harshest critics and consider canning great ideas until someone points out they’re not trash. For example, Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy co-wrote Waiting For Guffman. Guest felt his performance wasn’t funny and nearly cut himself out of the film until Levy informed him that his character, Corky St. Clair, was a hilarious highlight. The comedy might not have become a classic without the two working in tandem.
As a final note, keep in mind that unless you plan on editing, proofing, designing the book layout, creating the cover art, and self-publishing the story you wrote, then you’re going to work with someone, or an entire team, at some point. Team writing provides excellent practice for the collaborative aspects of publishing.
If you have questions or want more info on our team writing process, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Best of luck, collaborative writers. Go team!
Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Astrid’s roommate cuts herself with anything sharp she can get her hands on and Max’s roommate threatens him upon introduction.
Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. Sometimes he can move things without touching them. Sometimes he can see people’s voices flowing out of their mouths. Teddy also thinks that some of the Wakefield staff are on to him.
At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity?
Erin lives with her husband in the bustling metropolis of Hooksett, New Hampshire, and works for the federal government. She enjoys reading and writing young adult fiction, playing recreational volleyball, and mining the depths of popular culture for new and interesting ideas. A year after graduating from law school she found herself unemployed and took a job as a case manager at a residential facility similar to the one featured in Wakefield. Though she worked there for only a year and a half, the strange and amazing kids she met will forever serve as a well of inspiration.
Troy grew up in Sunapee, NH, and graduated with a B.A. in English/Communications with a dual concentration in film and writing from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He spent ten years working in the banking industry dreaming up numerous stories to write. When not writing, Troy keeps mental notes on the various stories he wants to tell.