Collaborative Fiction Writing

Has anyone tried to co-author a story? I thought about this today – what would it be like to try to negotiate a group of characters, a setting, major plot elements, and so on with another person?

I listened to Writing Excuses several months ago (maybe a year ago? If I had Internet access I could check!), and in the episode the hosts were hammering out a story idea (a tidally-locked world in which one culture was in perpetual darkness and the other was in perpetual daylight, as I recall). The process was very interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to try.

But not knowing anyone else who wanted to write fiction for fun, and not really having time to spend on such a project anyway, I didn’t do anything with the idea.

And now it returns, in my evening in Hornepayne, because I have time. Tonight, at least. Of course, I can’t actually collaborate tonight since I’m not connected, so this is more of a thought experiment than an actual proposal.

Outlining

I like to outline a story before I write it, even a very short story. I like to plan it out and then just fill in the prose. I think my stories are better if I take the time to do this, and it seems those stories are more likely to be completed anyway. The stories I’ve written “organically” or by “discovery writing” tend to be terrible; maybe they just need more post-writing effort.

But collaborating on an outline (I’m imagining this in a Google Doc or Spreadsheet) sounds pretty difficult. Maybe a Hangout would be a better way; this feels like it would be best done live, not asynchronously.

World-Building

If you’re creating a world, or even just a local context, the details are really important. How do you make sure both/all of the authors have a consistent knowledge of the environment, history, circumstances, …? You have to record it all, no?

Characters

When I watch a movie adaptation of a novel I’ve read, the characters are never quite as I envisioned them from reading. Sometimes this is because the director/casting director/whoever has departed from the author’s vision (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher?!?), but sometimes it’s just that my interpretation of the character is flawed or incomplete. How difficult would it be for multiple authors to settle on characters together?

Star Trek, etc.

I used to read a lot of Star Trek novels, which were written by several authors (one at a time, though). They had a world to write inside of, with history, existing characters, and even future arcs to consider. I imagine that would be both easier and harder in some ways. Wouldn’t collaborating on a story have similar advantages and difficulties?

Maybe someday

This isn’t something I’m going to do right now. I’m just thinking out loud about it, and maybe I’ll return to it someday when I have fewer projects on my plate. If you’ve written with someone else before, or have thoughts about what I would be like, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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Learning about Said Bookisms

The first page of notes I wrote about the world I'm creating. The handstitched leather notebook was romantic, but I'm using Google Docs now.

The first page of notes I wrote about the world I’m creating. The handstitched leather notebook was romantic, but I’m using Google Docs now.

What’s a “Said Bookism”?

I recently listened to Writing Excuses Season 1 Episode 35 (“Voice, Tone and Style”) and was struck by an almost sidebar conversation about never using “said bookisms” and “Tom Swifties”. I hadn’t heard of these terms before.

Their point was basically that you should write dialogue with the words said and asked but not more “exciting” words like huffed, explained, queried, exclaimed and so on. I’m sure I remember being explicitly taught to “liven up” my writing by replacing those boring old words.

I mentioned it to my family today, and my wife pointed out that children writing dialogue often end up with a structure like this:

“Where are you going?” asked Jim.

“To the ball field,” said Sam.

“Are you going to play ball?” asked Jim.

“If there’s anyone there,” said Sam.

“I went yesterday and there was no one there,” said Jim.

“I hope we can play,” said Sam.

I agree that this dialogue is terrible, and that the temptation to fix it would be to replace said and asked. I wonder now instead if the dialogue needs a little setting, a little description of what the characters look like or a feeling… and a little something worth talking about.

My Own Writing

Okay, so I was a little worried. What did my own writing look like? I took a quick look at the short story I recently posted here. I hadn’t been thinking about this, so I expected something pretty awful. I was pleasantly suprised, though: I mostly use said in my dialogue.

It didn’t hurt that there were only two people in nearly every scene. They spoke to each other, so it was pretty easy to tell who was doing the talking without having to tag them. In the scene with three people talking, here’s what I did:

“Good morning, Aunt Sarah,” Whip said as he was setting out the mugs next to the pot of oatmeal on the table. “How did you sleep?”

She smiled at him. “Very well, thank you, Whip. I feel quite rested this morning.” She sat at the table as he ladled a steaming bowl for her. She was dressed for the day already in practical cotton pants and tunic, both brown to match her husband’s. “And you? Were you able to get to sleep last night?”

Whip ran a hand through his dark, unkempt hair. “Yes, I was. I had a peaceful night, for a change.”

I only used said once, and I didn’t use any other tags to indicate who was talking. The paragraphing does that pretty much on its own, so I didn’t bother, I guess. It wasn’t conscious, so I’m not really sure.

Two Other Resources

Just in case the Writing Excuses guys were out to lunch (unlikely), I figured I’d quickly Google the concept. They were justified in their criticisms of the said bookism. Here are a couple of the more interesting articles:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SaidBookism

http://www.fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue%205/tags.htm

Feedback Welcome

If you have some thoughts you’d like to share I’d appreciate it. I’m pretty much getting feedback from blog readers and Twitter, so I’m hoping you’ll weigh in on both the topic and on my writing. Thanks!