Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Collaborative writing - some thoughts

I just finished reading Floaters: Three Short Stories.  It consisted of - you guessed it! - three short stories.  Two published authors who both did crime stories and felt they had compatible styles, decided to collaborate on a story.  Each of them had written and published several stories that used the same main character, and they agreed to 'loan' their main character to the collaborative work.  The book consisted of their joint effort, followed by a short story from each of them.  The intro explains that one author wrote about 3k words, then handed it off to the other author, who then wrote about 3k words.  It got passed back and forth a few times, although it wasn't clear what changes, if any, they made to each other's work.

My thoughts?  The collaborative work was mediocre, although I don't know that I would have realized there were two different authors, had I not been told.  However, to my surprise, I enjoyed both of the  individual short stories that followed, much more than I did the collaborative work.


In my writing group, we've done this exercise we call "Roaming Paragraph", a couple times.  In a random order, one person starts the story, emails it to the next one on the list, and person 2 adds their share, and passes it on to the next.  Each person typically writes between 150 and 300 words.  The last person adds his/her share, although they don't have to actually 'end' the story.  It's an interesting exercise, I think we all enjoy it, it's both interesting and amusing to see what each of us does with the work-in-progress we're given....  but the final result is far from a work of art.  Granted, our group includes a wide variety of experience, as well as a variety of preferred genres.. but trust me, the final outcome is  not anywhere near ready for public consumption.


As I've mentioned in previous posts, I take part in Nanowrimo.  One of the things I enjoy about Nanowrimo, is perusing and taking part in the forums on the website.  Some of the threads talk about writing software and technology, some threads talk about issues and problems authors run up against,  and some threads have nothing to do with writing.  There is one thread that I particularly enjoy taking part in, called The Smoking Pen.  Boiled down to its basics, The Smoking Pen is collaborative writing, with perhaps dozens of people taking part, each contributing a few lines at a time, in no particular order, in no particular direction, and with no particular goal in sight.  The Pen 'opens' in early October, continues throughout November (Nanowrimo month), and typically ends in early December.  Some people begin posting in the beginning, and continue to the end, others pop in for a post or two and disappear.
The experience is fun, and funny, and very social...  and that's about all you can say about it.  You can excuse the typos (we have no edit button!), but postings are full of inconsistencies and nonsense, and lack any sort of structure or order.


My verdict on collaborative writing?   Collaborative writing can be fun, and it can provide a learning experience.    But for me, at least, it should be kept in forums, and in writing groups, and off the bookshelves.

Not much in my teapot today..


  1. I found your post interesting. The teapot seemed full to me!!

  2. I disagree, respectfully.

    Richard & Francis Lockridge wrote the famous Mr. & Mrs. North series. They were a married couple and their books (26) were very popular and were made into a Broadway play, a motion picture and several radio and television series. I loved them. Some were made into movies.

    Beverly Herald and Barbara McCafferty are identical twins. Beverly is a retired coworker and friend of mine. They write a mystery series about Bert & Nan Tatum, identical twins, who solve murders. They're good cozy mysteries. Beverly told me they each write one twin. I thought I knew which one Bev wrote... I was wrong.

    Kat's favorite: Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman wrote Good Omen. Haven't read it so don't know if it is good.

    I leave you with this wiki:

    Good writers can write a collaborative novel. But I can tell you, they also have to be supreme diplomates. I think it is very hard and that is why you do not see much of this type of writing.

  3. Interesting observations, Laurie. I haven't read the short story book you mentioned, but I'm wondering if maybe they over-edited the one they collaborated on, trying to get a consistent voice or something, and stripped it of a distinctive style.

    Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman's book Good Omens is a marvelous collaboration. There are bits I suspect were contributed by Sir Terry, only because he's much funnier than NeilHimself, but the voice is consistent throughout. It's a wonderful, quirky account of an apocalypse that has me laughing out loud even after countless readings. [Have I mentioned that I'm an evangelical Pratchettian?]

  4. Stephen King has collaborated on novels, for instance with Peter Straub. I agree, it's not always easy, and you have to share similar writing styles. And as Cindy said, diplomacy is vital.

    But I do think it can be a Titanic waiting to happen, in the wrong hands!

  5. @Kat.. as it happens, Floaters did have a distinctive style, the two authors were indeed compatible. That was very clear, after reading their separate stories. And Floaters wasn't bad, it's just that their individual stories were so much better.
    @Cathy .. while I enjoyed the King/Straub collaboration, I felt the King solos were much better. I'll make a note to look for other King collaborations, and add them to my reading list.
    @Cynthia, and @Kat... I'll add your listed collaborators to my reading list, as well.

  6. I haven't read the Lockridge books in ... wow, probably 30 years. I remember the movie vaguely and think it was a good one. But I did enjoy the books. They were fairly typical of their time and I think, not sure, that he had several books he wrote alone.