State of the Collaboration: Voice Work

Note 1: I wrote this awhile ago and never posted it. The excerpts are from One in Vermillion, so it wasn’t that long ago, but it does show a little more about how we collaborate.

Note 2: It was Bob’s birthday yesterday. (I suck at deadlines.) I think finishing three books is present enough, but I did cast an eye over the Lego zombie pirate captain on Amazon. Good thing I don’t know his address or he’d have that sucker on his desk now.

Bob and I have very different voices, which is good, it helps tremendously in differentiating the two PoV characters. But when we have to write each other’s characters, it becomes a problem. That’s okay, we just go in and rewrite our own characters to fit, smooth out the scene to conform to our styles. Bob shortens my run-on sentences in my first drafts of Vince scenes, and I start combining his sentence fragments into complete sentences in Liz’s. That’s not because I think sentence fragments are bad, they’re a feature of his writer’s voice and by extension of Vince’s voice. But they’re not Liz’s voice. In the same way Bob’s voice (and Vince’s) is fairly formal and measured, which I chalk up to years in the military. But my voice (and Liz’s) is very informal, full of slang and rat-a-tat-tat pacing. Again, this is a good thing, putting that difference on the page.

I thought of that last night when Bob gave me two scenes to rewrite in Liz’s PoV. Why was he writing Liz? Because she’d gotten sucked into an action scene with a gun, and I know zilch about that. Much better for Bob to write it and get the details right, and then for me to rewrite it to fix the voice. This is something we’ve been doing for years, so no egos are bruised or broken; I expect him to do the same thing for the Vince scenes I write. We usually end up handing the scenes back forth a couple of times before we’re both satisfied. It’s a good system.

Usually he hands me the scene and it’ll have a note on it that says something like “insert banter here,” and usually my process is go through and take out all his Latinate/formal words and put them into Anglo/Saxon vernacular, with a few stops to change something that sounds more like a guy than a woman. And I hand him a scene and say, “You’re going to have to butch this up,” and watch him start to cut. The important part is, it always makes the scene better.


So here’s a paragraph from the doc he sent me last night, first his version and then my rewrite to put it into Liz’s voice.

Bob’s First Draft:
Vince had roused me from barely enough sleep to be worth going to bed, well before the sun came up. I had to admit it was my own damn fault for pulling the stunt with Molly last night but it had been so worth it. And, as he’d reminded me, a couple of times during the drive, this was the price to be paid.

This morning, though, wasn’t on the same level of being a stunt. This was for real, which hit home when Vince pulled off Route 52 onto a dirt road to a small clearing where George was waiting in his big truck and Rain in her snazzy Mercedes. They both got out when we stopped.

Jenny’s Second Draft
That morning, Vince had woken me up a couple of hours after we’d hit the sheets, long before the sun came up. I rolled down over the foot of the bed, cursing Major Rogers and his perverse lust for dawn. I knew it was my own damn fault for trashing O’Toole’s posters with Molly last night but it had been so worth it. And, as Vince continued to remind me as we drove to meet Rain and George, this was the price to be paid for immature vandalism.

“There is no free lunch, Danger,” he said. “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

“It was a paintbrush,” I said. “Die by the paintbrush just doesn’t have the same ring.”

He continued to explain why trashing the posters was immature, unproductive and illegal, but I didn’t care. People were going to laugh their asses off when they saw those posters. Also, I was pretty sure he was doing it to distract me from the fact that we were all gonna die.


There was nothing funny about this morning, though, which hit home when Vince pulled off Route 52 onto a dirt road to a small clearing where George was waiting in his big truck and Rain in her snazzy Mercedes. They both got out when we stopped.


You’ll notice my draft was longer. That’s in part because I’m a slut for dialogue, but mostly because of character. That is, if that scene had been from Vince’s PoV, it would have been the length Bob made it because Vince (and Bob) would be thinking about the mission, not bantering with a nervous girlfriend.

But it’s in Liz’s PoV, and she (and I) are thinking about what’s coming up, about how dangerous it is and how out of her depth she is, so she’s babbling, trying to keep things light so she doesn’t start screaming from nerves. Humor: it’s a great deflector of emotion.

28 thoughts on “State of the Collaboration: Voice Work

  1. And THIS is why the collaboration with you two works as well as it does!

    Still waiting for the zombies!

  2. Cool stuff. Jenny, How much can you tell about an author from the author’s writing? Or, are there specific things you can tell, others you can guess at?

    1. I think if you read a lot of an author’s work, you probably know their world view, values, tastes, etc.
      I would have loved to had lunch with Terry Pratchett. Or Kirsty MacColl.
      I think voice tells you a lot. When my first book was published, friends told me it was like listening to me talk. And Bob e-mailed me at one point during the trilogy and said, “This shouldn’t say “by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer,” it’s “with Jennifer Crusie as Liz and Bob Mayer as Vince.” That first person voice really just becomes yours.
      But people change, too, and you really do become different characters, so I think beyond values and world view, it’s probably not that much of an insight.

      1. Very, very interesting. I asked because I really like Marie de France’s work, and all anyone knows of her is her work. Yet I sputter at claims that Shakespeare’s plays and poems were written by anyone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon with lodgings near the Globe.

  3. I did a four-book series with a writing partner and we did the same thing as Jenny and Bob. The two main characters were Rina and Maggie.

    So I would hand her a scene in her character’s POV and say, “Rina-cize” it and she’d same the same for my character.

  4. This reminds me of a question I had about an earlier post about the collaboration. Bob said he had written a sex scene. At first I thought, “O, good, Jenny doesn’t like writing those.” And then I began to wonder how you made the reader see the encounter from both characters’ POV.

    1. You don’t. It’s all from one PoV.
      It’s a great scene, too. It’s really a foreplay scene in Vince’s PoV and it got great character stuff in it. It’s one of the first scenes in the second book, and I think it just nails the relationship. Then next scene is afterglow in Liz’s PoV.

  5. I am so happy. It’s not my birthday but it might as well be because that was a treat. Paintbrush. 🤩

  6. It actually is my birthday so this was a nice treat (along with chocolate hazelnut croissants, the gorgeous 2″ tall ceramic water fountain and an electric, handheld – storable- can opener, which will probably be the most appreciated gift of all with my arthritic hands).

    I am having a spectacular day. Dinner out tonight

    P.S. Even Dmitri (blue-grey cat) is doing his part. He jumped up on the table, snatched the large green bow off one of packages, laid his ears back and took off at a flat-out run. It was so charming, I laughed and forgot to say “No, sweetheart, we don’t do that”. I’m very strict with him as you can tell.

    1. Was that really a 2 inch fountain? Interesting. I love your cat! And I loved the way you drew out the description of the can opener so that we were thinking “vibrator”. Well, I was, anyway. I have no filters, anymore, apparently. Happy Birthday.

      1. Thank you. Thank you. This makes up for having hit the age bracket on surveys that means “you are old now. Why aren’t you in a living facility?”

  7. Aha! So, that’s why that works for you and the readers. I could not figure out how you could manage to imitate each other’s style. Thanks for the inside look.

  8. I’m super impressed that you can do that without wanting to kill each other.

    These books are going to be so much fun!

  9. I seem to learn by osmosis by reading this kind of posts from you, Jenny. I do not aspire to write as well as you. I would like to have at least one novel published someday. If that happens reading these in depth posts about how you work will definitely have made a major contribution!

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