Co-writing a work of fiction with another author

Co-writing a work of fiction with another author:

For those how are involved in the industry, how does this approach work in reality?

Do authors take ‘turns’, writing a chapter each, a section each, a paragraph each? Or does one member do the vast bulk of the writing and the other is there to bounce ideas off and change storylines etc… Would the former approach not lead to a slightly different tone or structure to each section written by a different author?

Or is the process run like a committee – they have brainstorming meetings where ideas are thrashed out and agreement reached on the best direction to take the story, the best language to describe it, the best method to include jokes / puns etc. If so, are the ideas then arrived at on paper – also by agreement - word by word or paragraph by paragraph? In a ‘normal’ (single author) novel where prose and style is important it would seem that this shared input of the ‘overall vision’ of the novel would act to lessen it, to compromise the grand, overall, idea.

In sure it is different for each and every collaboration (Pratchett & Gaimon, King & Straub etc…) but, In general, how does the creative process work in co-authoring?


Well, it is different for each collaboration.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with a variety of writers in his “Partners in Wonder” stories. He said that he would write a section, then the other author would write the next. They’d get to the end and one or the other of them would go over the work and edit it, then send it to the other to do a final edit. Ellison and his collaborators didn’t discuss anything about the story beforehand, and would often twist away from where the other was going (like killing off a characters).

More often, the authors hash out the story beforehand and decide where to go with it. Then one writes it and gives it to the other to review. One author is designated the “senior partner” whose judgment rules if there’s a dispute. I believe Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell worked this way. I know Raymond Feist did this when he collaborated with Janny Wurts (he joked about how he was the senior writer, but ended up agreeing with whatever Wurts suggested).

Other times, an author writes a detailed outline, which is given to a second author to do the actual writing. Often in these cases, the second author may not even get a byline. A certain SF TV star turned SF “author” works this way (hint: toupee). In that case, however, the author did want to share credit, but the publisher refused to let him, thinking that a second name on the credits would hurt sales (since everyone would assume the second name actually wrote the book). The author did an end run by clearly thanking the author he worked with, though.

It is extremely rare for the writing to be done “by committee” – with authors hashing out everything they’re going to say beforehand. Usually one writes a part of the first draft and, if not doing the whole thing, switches off with the other collaborator. Editing is done by one and then the other, and the final draft is done by just one author. It’d be extremely difficult to decide on all aspects of the story beforehand, and would take an endless amount of time to write the book (committees are not known for the speed that they decide things).

This is quite interesting - this is like a game we used to play as kids where one person said a line, then another the next line and so on. (There have even been threads like this on SDMB). I never thought actual complete books would have been put together in such a way - must be interesting project for the authors - each trying to out-think and out-do each other, going in amazing directions, including incredible events or tricky situations for the next writer to continue from.

This sounds more like what I would have imagined, but it doesn’t quite sound like a co-authorship as I would imagine it. Most books would have acknowledgemnets by the author to those who helped in the creative process by editing, reading and correcting ideas and content, but those helpers do not get credit for co-authorship.

Thanks for the reply. I was hoping you’d show up in this thread. :smiley:

I’ve coauthored a book, and it worked pretty much like Chuck says: we discussed the whole book, the plan, the strategy, the tone, etc. for a couple of weeks, then divvied up the chapters, figured out which passages we’d want to try to write together (in the same room at the same time–there were very few of these) and then we gave them to the other for revising, and finally we each edited the completed ms., and reconciled our different edits into one.

We’re still friends, btw, but neither of us is any hurry to work with the other any time soon. I was the junior partner, and if I ever cowrite another book, I’m going to be the senior partner.

If you want an example on how not to co-author a book, see if you can find a copy of " The Twelve" by Howard and Susan Kaminsky. The events in the book happened four, no five, four, five, four, no five years ago. And a character was either at the compound ten years, actually 4 years, or maybe just one year before the accident… Not only do they not build off of what they other wrote, I don’t think they even read the chapters they didn’t write. I’m writing a fic with someone that transitions much better (perhaps because we actually discuss what’s happening in the story!) and we’re never getting paid for it. <shakes head>

I once co-wrote an article for a humor magazine with a friend.

He took the stuff I wrote, edited it to his liking then submitted it without letting me see the final copy.

To this day he doesn’t see why that was wrong.

There’s a good example of what happens when writers try to out-do each other by chapter in THE RED TAPE WAR by Jack Chalker, Mike Resnick and George Alec Effinger. It’s no longer in print, and there’s a reason for that.

It stinks.