In celebration of Shared Worlds, Booklifenow will be talking with a handful of writers who collaborate on books. Shared Worlds is a creative writing summer camp for teenagers interested in collaborative creativity.
Over the next week or so, we will hear from Annette Myers, Mary Buckham and Dianna Love, Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, S. D. Perry and Steve Perry, Christine Matthews and Robert J. Randisi, Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb, Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge, and Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. These writers represent many styles and genres, including mystery, historical, fantasy, and science fiction.
Today, Kevin J. Anderson and Ed Greenwood discuss what’s best for the story and the importance of leaving your ego at the door. Anderson and Greenwood have never collaborated with each other, but they both have long and rich histories of collaborating with others.
Kevin J. Anderson has written (and co-written) extensively in the Star Wars and Dun universes. He is the author of The Edge of the World and the forthcoming The Map of All Things.
Ed Greenwood has written across the genres, but is best known for his many fantasy novels. He is the author of Falconfar and the forthcoming Elminster Must Die: the Sage of Shadwodale.
What are the benefits of collaborating on fiction writing?
Kevin J. Anderson: I collaborate with a writing partner because he or she brings something to the project that I can’t do myself. I have written a dozen major novels with Brian Herbert (who has a philosophy degree to my physics degree) and the two of us bring a level of ambition to a Dune novel that neither of us could do individually. My wife is a noted YA author, so when we work together our work is targeted toward younger readers. My books with Doug Beason are cutting-edge techno-thrillers because Doug has had a career in the military and long experience working on major high-tech projects.
Ed Greenwood: Collaborations are far less lonely than writing alone, and bouncing ideas off each other and playing to the strengths of one collaborating writer where another has weaknesses can build great creative energy and make collaborations fun.
How do you do it? When does it work? How does it positively affect the final product?
Kevin J. Anderson: We brainstorm the project carefully together, write a detailed outline/blueprint that we each work from (chapters divided equally), and after we do our own drafts, we edit each other’s until the manuscript is smooth and seamless.
Ed Greenwood: I deliberately do collaborations differently every single time, by asking the other writer(s) involved how they want to do it, and then agreeing to whatever they’d prefer. For me, the fun of a collaboration is in trying all the various ways of collaborating. I seem to be most comfortable in letting others handle the meta-plot (outline), and I concentrate on dialogue, characterization, and description (“putting the flesh on the bones”).
For me, collaborations succeed when they produce a good story first and foremost, and when all parties involved enjoyed the process. In the case of living collaborators (as opposed to a living writer finishing something left incomplete by a deceased writer, where the goal may be to craft a story as if the deceased writer had lived to do it all), I think a collaboration really works when the result is a “better” story than either writer might have produced solo, and that doesn’t seem to be the work of just one writer or the other.
A good storytelling team improves together, so their tales become better as they all/both benefit from working with others.
Can you share some advice (and maybe some words of caution) for fiction writers setting out to collaborate?
Ed Greenwood: Make sure you have time to devote to a collaboration. A collaborative effort is never “half the work” of a solo project.
Always make sure that all parties involved in a collaboration communicate freely and fully at the beginning so everyone is agreed on who’s doing what, how, and by when. If something isn’t working, say so, right away. It’s not fair to others to keep them in the dark about your parts not being done due to continental drift, the death of your cat, or other vicissitudes of life – – or that right in the middle of doing this gothic vampire novel on possessed poodles you got a great idea about pink airships and are squeezing them in, too (or worse: instead). Everyone involved in a collaboration (including the editor and the publisher) should be in agreement on what is being created (length, genre, tone, and story elements). If a publisher wanted a noir mystery and the collaborators produce a parody or a cozy mystery instead, or when fantasy is desired hand in something that the publisher thinks is space opera, no one is going to end up happy.
Nobody likes nasty surprises. They are welcomed still less when reputations and schedules and creative flows are involved. So be up front about everything, and try to be sensitive about the way others work. If they need quiet private time to create, don’t e-mail or phone them every night to update them on your progress and ask about theirs. Unless you want to drive them mad and make them hate you forever, which is seldom a sane career or personal goal.
Kevin J. Anderson: You have to leave your ego at the table, don’t get proprietary, and do what’s best for the story. Work well as friends in addition to being partners. Brainstorm a lot, share your ideas, and most of all learn from it.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor. Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magainze. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.