After last week’s scandalous headline, I thought I would bring my civility back to the blog and approach a question I feel is more important than “How do we write together?”
Why do we write together?
First, some backstory.
I don’t remember the exact day but I had been at the cabin last year, in the midst of working on the zine and suddenly understood the possibility that came with self-publishing. I realized I could have a direct connection with the audience, no longer waiting for permission to share my writing with the reader. I also knew that if I wanted, I could swing the whole process into motion quickly and start producing work.
I had a definite notion of what I wanted to. As well, I wanted to work on my writing craft and focus on a genre, likely a thriller, mystery, or horror. As well, I knew I wanted to have the potential to build a series of books focused around a character and once I had it in motion, then I could add further books or other series as I wished.
Yet, the potential was a little overwhelming and I knew I needed some help. Ang and I had recently finished a script, the first after a few years of a break, and it went smoothly. We took it from first outline to final second draft in only five weeks. The idea of writing something four times that size required a longer window of time, but still it was doable.
So, I texted her, pitching the idea, and she didn’t even pause before saying, “Yes.”
So, why did I turn to her to do this? And why does she work with me?
1) She is a writing machine.
I can give her the general outline of the story and after a few days of mauling over the plan, she starts writing. And often, she writes a lot.
Myself, I get a good five pages a day before I start feeling that my writing tank is empty. She can get past eight or more, and she’ll keep at it until she has nothing left, or she needs guidance on the next stage of the plan (but not always).
2) I'm a shaper of words.
If she is the one in the lead of making that first swath through our story jungle (we work interchangeably), I will follow behind her and rearrange the pieces.
She jokingly calls me the man with the golden scissors, because I'm merciless in editing. I'll cut huge chunks out of the work she’s done, moving sentences and paragraphs around like a giant puzzle. Yet, I try and preserve her words and the big story beats I cut out, placing them into an odds and ends file, because I know I'll often repurpose them for later scenes. She is open to this process because our focus is always on the story and making sure it makes sense to the reader.
3) She handles the quiet story beats.
When the everyday life of our characters needs to be addressed, she seems to handle it well. I can always trust that when there are moments when our narrator or main character is with friends or family, she’ll come in and fill the pages with humour and care.
4) I handle the action.
Where Ang creates the places of safety and calm for our characters, I create the chaos. I like to beat the crap out of our characters. I like to see them struggle and suffer.
Yet, this is a good example of one of those exchanges that I can’t take sole credit. Often the action beats start with her. She’ll say, “What if we do X?” or “Why doesn’t Y happen to him?” And then she’ll forget, but the scene will be stuck in my head and I'll need write it to see it happen.
5) We both add emotional beats.
We seem to work from opposite ends. Ang seems to make our characters human by exploring who they are in the present, but I often discover secrets or ghost of their past and leave them lying around in the writing for Ang to find and react to.
6) I bring the sad. She brings the laughs.
I’m a downer. All my own stories end with dead, lost, or unhappy people. Thankfully, Ang makes me laugh and she brings it to the page.
A good example of this is a moment in our upcoming novel that she wrote. I think it's ridiculous and doesn't really fit but I refuse to cut it because it's funny.
7) We often write the same story beat or idea.
I’ll be reworking a scene that she’s written and I’ll add a beat. Then, I’ll move further down the page and there it is, the exact same beat written by her!
The trouble is, now I’ve got two identical beats and I need to decide which stays and which goes and when. I know it’s not really a problem and actually it’s good to know we are on the exact same thinking, but man, then I have to make decisions and think and stuff….
8) She’s a namer.
If I add a character, I'll immediately text her for a name. I create a new business in the story. Call Ang.
In the upcoming books, I will say that 90% of the names of characters and places are hers. Once and a while, when I can’t reach her, I will try and think for myself.
9) We write to entertain each other.
Everyday we write, the other person will read and respond to it, shaping it into something we both enjoy. It seems like a weird mishmash but it gives a broader perspective to the story. We always say on here that the story is important and this is why. We are its first readers and if we aren’t enjoying it, laughing at it, reacting to it, or loving to watch another person react to it, then we need to make a change. It's less about us and more about addressing how a reader might respond to the work.
The Scaffolding of Us
If you were to dig into our writing and try and identify what parts each of us wrote, it would be difficult. Ang and I touch every part of it, whether it is writing a scene, a paragraph, or even a word. All of it is up for grabs by the other, to be shaped or changed to make it work.
I know that Ang and I both can put semi-coherent sentences together on our own. We don’t need anyone’s help, as far as I know. Yet, working together, we are stronger and more efficient. We push each other to do our best and make writing we hope is clear for the reader.
The most important thing to understand about the why of partnership is that we build each other up to raise up above what each of us can do on our own. The sooner this is understood, the less the question "Why?" matters.
I often thought about writing a blog post about this process. ↩︎
It wasn't always this way. She used to be all about the violence and sex one when we wrote scripts. She says I just liked killing of all our characters. ↩︎
You understand now how much I hate to actually think. Both Ang and my wife will disagree with this fact. ↩︎