Last week my writing buddy Russ posted a link to a writing contest – http://wuxia.genreverse.com/ the objective of which was to write a wuxia story. For those of you who don’t know, wuxia is a sort of genre out of China, and some of the stories are really really interesting in how they weave their tapestry of characters together in a rather George R.R. Martin sort of way. The two biggest that come to mind are Legend of the Condor Heroes, and Return of the Condor Heroes, both of which have been made into TV series a few times over. My Monday night martial arts movie friends have watched them (we’ve watched Return twice), among other stuff. If you’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ve seen a very westernized version of wuxia. Not to say that was a bad movie – it’s one of my favorites, it’s very well-filmed, and the martial arts and acting are awesome. For some (like us) it was like a gateway to the genre, while others (like my parents) thought they were using “wire-fu” to make fun of folk tales.
Enough about the genre. Russ posted the link and I replied with “IT’S JIANGHU TIME!”, to which another of my writing buddies, Laurie, replied, “Planning session?” A couple of messages later, she confirmed that she wanted to collaborate, which is something I’d always wanted to do, but never have. As a side note, I’ve also always wanted to write a wuxia story, but didn’t think I understood China or the wuxia genre enough to really do so. The laptop and I sat down at my favorite deli and a couple hours later (as in two) I had almost a full cast of characters and a couple plot points set out in a google document that I’d given Laurie access to. She logged on and I was all “Oh hi Laurie, here’s the full list of characters. I’m writing plot point 4 of 12.”
This is not to say that I’m soloing this, because Laurie spent a lot of time in China and Taiwan, so she KNOWS the culture, the lay of the land, the language, etc. She corrected stuff and brainstormed with me to make a real fleshed-out story instead of this real rough brain vomit that it would’ve ended up as. I started writing a chapter, and she’d ask “what do the walls / tiling look like here?” I’d be all “WTF does that matter?” But stuff like that is important, because, well, there are towns in China that are 2-3000 years old, and it’s not like those places used the same art styles / building materials that whole time. See, here in America, we think stuff that’s 100 years old is friggin’ ancient. By the way, she suggested we start the story near Guilin, which looks like this (click the pic for a non-scrunched version, my HTML-fu is weak) :
Seriously, without her input, I would’ve probably put it in a much more boring, generic-looking place with plains, rice fields, and maybe a mountain. BOOOOORING. She describes the area as “a mess of rivers” – could there possibly be a better metaphor, especially for jianghu?
“Hey what is this character’s motivation?” she’d ask. I’d come up with something, she’d build on it, I’d build on that, and that sort of thing gets repeated until the setting and characters are a lot more rich and accurate than either one of us could’ve done alone. “I can’t see how this character is important, can we cut her?” Another brainstorm ensues, and with all that creative energy flying around, it’s kind of hard to NOT come up with some really cool stuff.
When it got time to do the actual writing, I “assigned” her the 2nd and 3rd chapters, which worked great because I pretty much already had written the setup chapters 0 and 1, so she just built off my setup while I moved on to chapter 4. In about 5 days we did 95% of the characters and their backgrounds, the setting, the entire arc of plot points, and the first 4 chapters / 7K words. I don’t really feel like I’d have gotten even half this far alone, partially because when there’s someone else involved, I feel more accountable to get shit done, and partly because the collaboration is more than a simple sounding board.
Go forth and collaborate with someone!