How does collaboration work?

I get a lot of questions about how one collaborates with another to author a book. Let me preface with this : I can’t expect it works this way with everyone all the time, but I’ll elaborate a little on how we did it. This kind of thing HAS indeed happened before – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Stephen King & Peter Straub, etc. I can’t imagine the creative process is the same for any two individuals, much less for any collaboration of two individuals.

My strength tends to be sprinting forward, leaving details out, and not having the entire arc pre-written. For this, I figured if I’m gonna collaborate with someone, I should at least make it look like I have a plan (fooled you!), so I wrote the plot and the major characters in about 3 hours. World-building isn’t as big of a deal in wuxia because 1) most wuxia tends to take place in China (traditionally ancient China), and 2) the “magic” system sort of comes pre-boxed in a lot of ways, but we get to determine the details. I’ll make a post on that another time.

The first point in that statement (taking place in ancient China) is where Laurie comes in. I know a bit about Chinese culture and super-ancient China, but Laurie is the real scholar. She’s fluent in Mandarin, spent about 10 years in eastern Asia, and has studied the history and culture of pre-revolution China. I may have come up with the characters, but she gave them real Chinese names. Places where I put “they go to a city / mountain / etc.” she found real locations (some she’d actually been to) which were culturally & thematically significant. Most importantly, when I’d make a character do or say something that wasn’t culturally acceptable, she’d point it out. Sure, it was a pain in the ass, but we both wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

When drafting time came, I did about 3/4 of the first draft. Like I said, I sprint. I blast forward and leave out the details (or get them wrong). The first draft came out around 85k and took roughly 7 months, and it was terrible. Well, not terrible, but it needed work, which is where Laurie shines. She’d catch my errors, ask questions, and re-wrote whole sections after I’d told her my vision of how the scene was supposed to have come out. All those details I left out on accident, she caught and put in and made them as authentic as possible. Weather at different times of the year (and in different regions), the smells of the bustling metropolis of Guangzhou, foods and their relevance to festivals, religious figures, clothing, facial features, meanings of colors, on and on. It’s a different world with a super rich history and heritage, and she brought 10 years of experience to the table.

It doesn’t end there. We’ve sat down to re-hash pivotal scenes that didn’t work, hoping two brains work better than one. Line by line we re-built those scenes (some of them twice over). We meet at least once a week to check progress, discuss our vision of certain sections, and when nothing needs our combined attention, we spend that time editing.

Did we fight? Hell yes we fought – we’re both humans (well, I am quite obviously SUPERhuman) with lives outside of writing, and sometimes those lives have bled over into the project (I would argue that art which doesn’t reflect upon its creator is empty). Like any friendship, it’s about figuring out the friendship is worth either putting up with or dealing with whatever the other person is wrestling with.

I think folks tend to think plotting / drafting is the hardest part, and editing is easy, and that I’ve done the lion’s share of the work, so I’ve sort of decided I’ll fist fight anyone who accuses Laurie of not pulling her weight (hint : I’m not a violent guy and you’ll probably win). It’s a story that developed organically, like any good story should, and just because one person vomits a bunch of words onto a page it doesn’t mean it works, is good, or is authentic. In the past I’ve said, “Would you and your life story be the same if you’d grown-up without your best friend / sibling(s) / parent(s)? Maybe, but probably not.”


About benjamininn

About myself are papers, lots of tea, computer monitors, a stapler, pens, an ancient phone, more tea, some paperclips, and a lot of air.
This entry was posted in China, collaboration, Fiction, martial arts, Writing, wuxia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How does collaboration work?

  1. Wow, interesting info on your collaborative process. I think I’d like to try team-writing sometime. :-)


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