A friend recently approached me about collaborating. I think we could be great together but she is not a writer. She is a devoted reader and I trust her judgment. . . . What advice or resources would you have for someone taking on a partner? I don’t think she’ll be interested in the grunt work but in the plotting and world building.
In your case as described, I would strongly advise not to. In fact, run away.
There are partnerships where one researches and one writes—Ellery Queen comes to mind—but almost inevitably the one doing the writing does 95% of the work and gets half the money and then things blow up. If you do decide that you’ll do the writing and she’ll do the plotting and research, make sure you get the lion’s share of the money, at least 75% and probably 90% and then only if she does allthe research and plotting.
But that means that you’re going to let somebody else plot the book you write, which means you’re giving up a lot of control. In fact, you’re basically ghost-writing her story. That only works if she’s James Patterson (and even then you’re still going to get a fraction of the money for doing most of the work). But if she has no name to sell the book, you’re both going to work on the plotting, and then you’re going to write it? She’s a good friend. Mention her in the acknowledgements and buy her a nice dinner when the book comes out. Helping with plotting is what a critique partner does for free, not what a writing partner does. A writing partner writes. If she’s not writing half the book, she doesn’t get half the money. If she’s not writing any of the book, she’s not collaborating and she doesn’t get any of the money.
(You would not believe how many times people have come up to me at book signings and said, “I’ve had a fascinating life. I’ll tell you about it, you write it, and we’ll split the money.” I smile and say, “No.” But I’m thinking, “HELL, no.”)
My collaborations have mostly been with great partners—hardworking, open to suggestion, creative and cooperative, writing an equal share of the story—and it was still difficult. A collaborator who doesn’t write? Nope. Nope, nope, nope. If I’m going to write the whole book, I’m going to get the whole check.
Two questions: does your writing process change in your collaborations and even though you’ve collaborated with a few people more than once, (Krissie, Bob) was it a different process each time?
Well, we got better each time.
The process for all my collaborations (not for collaborations in general) was that we each took a character and wrote that character’s arc and plot. That is, Bob took the Guy and I took the Girl and we negotiated from there, but he wrote all the Guy’s PoV and I wrote all the Girl’s. With Krissie, it was the same thing, except there were three of us in each collab (Eileen Dreyer in the first one and Lani Diane Rich in the second) and we each took a female PoV. In The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, Eileen took the oldest, bossy sister, Krissie took the peacemaker middle sister , and I took the youngest rebel sister. In Dogs and Goddesses, I took the oldest jaded college professor, Lani took the middle practical tech expert, and Krissie took the youngest dreamy romantic. Because all the characters were deliberately so different (and so reflective of who we were) it was easy to put them together in a book, which is not to say that collaborating is easy. It isn’t; it’s much harder than writing solo.
The writing process changes when I change collaborators because their personalities and writing processes are very different. Writing with Bob is miles different from writing with Krissie. Not better, not worse, just different. The real key is finding a collaborator who has the same vision for the story that you do (that involves a lot of discussion beforehand), has the same work ethic you do, and who is open-minded about change. One of they key rules we always had was that we got say over our character’s dialogue and action in the scenes that others wrote. If your collaborator says, “This bit you wrote won’t work for my character, she wouldn’t say or do this,” find out why, and let her make the changes, even if it means losing something important to you. And vice versa, of course.
If you get a collaborator who tries to dictate to you, or who decides to take a vacation in the middle of the book, or gets angry and lets that take over his or her side of the book, then you’ve got a major problem. Choose your collaborators carefully. Now that I think about it, Bob and Krissie are both so open-minded that I should have known in advance it would work out. (Bob and I had some non-writing fights, but any time we hit a wall in the book, we just talked it out.) I’m not sure my collaborators would say the same about me, but I was fortunate in how flexible they were.
Collaborating is cooperating. I remember on UMF, Eileen was insistent that the local diner served martinis and I was insistent that it did not (no local diner I had ever been to was organized enough for a liquor license or wanted a bunch of drunks in the booths). My compromise was writing in that the diner was under new management and the new manager was an idiot and was serving martinis. It actually fit well into the plot—the new manager was a minion of the Big Bad who was not happy about those martinis—and Eileen got the scene with martinis in the diner that she needed to make her plot work.
Krissie and I were laughing the other day about her mattress in D&G; she’d had her very petite character wrangle a queen-size mattress onto the top of her station wagon, drive it back to the place she was staying, and haul it up a flight of stairs that had a turn in the middle. Lani and I said, “No, she didn’t,” and while Krissie was explaining she was sure that was possible, Lani and I (people who had actually wrangled queen-sized mattresses) said, “Nobody will ever believe it.” She finally gave up and made it work a different way. And there was the time Krissie and Lani told me there wasn’t enough passion in a sex scene and harassed me until I went back and rewrote, which lead to the creation of our term for a great sex scene: “Dick and Awe.” And we also dinged Lani for wimping out on a sex scene in a courtyard by saying repeatedly for weeks, “That’s the courtyard where nobody ever has sex” until Lani gave up and wrote a sex scene there. We had a good time on that collaboration.
On the whole, I don’t recommend collaborating because you get half or a third of the money and you lose control over any part of the story that isn’t yours. It’s much harder than writing solo, although there are some great rewards, including learning a lot from the people you’re collaborating with. Hard to believe I didn’t know what a double tap was before I met Bob.