May 11, 2011

Behind the scenes of a multi-author novel

Usually when a novel has more than one author, one person (usually a non-writer) has the idea and the other person (the writer) does the writing. It works.
But my friend Heather and I are both writers, so when we decided three years ago that we wanted to write a book together, we knew that traditional methods of co-authoring wouldn't work for us.
We had the story idea, we just needed to figure out how to execute it. We couldn't both work on all of it--we knew each other well enough to know that we'd just argue and never get anything done.
I suggested that we each write every other chapter, switching off and alternating. That would solve some problems, but led to the new problem of inconsistencies in author voice and writing style that could jolt and confuse the readers.
That was when Heather came up with the idea of each of us writing from a specific character's viewpoint, and only from that certain character's viewpoint. In theory, it looked like that approach would solve all of our issues, so we tried it. And it worked!
So, when Heather, Elynn, and I decided last year that all three of us should write a novel together, we already had the system down to a science. After putting together the basic structure of our story world, we each chose a character and got to work fleshing them out. We each only write from the viewpoint of the character we chose and developed.
Of course, that process, simple as it sounds, has taken a lot of time and a lot of work. Many, many Saturdays have been spent developing characters and plotting story structure via conference call--I believe Elynn even has some of our calls recorded somewhere. Many, many three-way emails have been sent and received and filed and copied and resent, sometimes at one in the morning or later. Occasionally we email each other and have conference calls simultaneously.
We've discovered that collaborating on a novel takes a mind-boggling amount of work and cooperation, and there's way more to it even than what I've mentioned in this post. But we've also developed a system that is (to our knowledge, anyway) completely new and that we hope could revolutionize the possibilities for multi-author projects in the future.
What are your thoughts on our system? Have you ever been part of a multi-author novel project? If so, what system worked for you?


  1. I tried doing a partner script once--very bad idea. Neither of us had time to to collaborate, so basically, it was too takes on the same idea.

  2. It sounds like a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time! I haven't ever been part of a multi-author novel myself, but I did read some of Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper's blog posts on their experience co-authoring together. If memory serves me correctly, they would each write sections of the book, and then give the other full liberty to edit, which made the entire book a merge of their voices, different than what either would write alone. If I ever co-write a novel, I think I would prefer the each writer takes a character method.

    Knowing what you know about the process now, would you tackle another multi-author project in the future?

  3. Q: "Knowing what you know about the process now, would you tackle another multi-author project in the future?"
    A: Oh yeah! Yes, it has been a lot of work (and both of my writing partners have spent the last few days threatening to kill me for taking so long to write my chapter) but it has been so much fun and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not to mention, when you hit a snag in plot, character development, or any other normal fiction problems, you're not on your own figuring out the solution--you have other brains to help you!


What are your thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, or ideas, even if you don't agree with me. Please be aware that I reserve the right to delete comments that are uncivil or vulgar, however.