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How do you coauthor fiction? August 6, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. On Saturday, I attended a symposium on young adult fiction (think The Hunger Games) as part of a project I’m working on. I’d hoped to get some useful insights to bring to the project, and I did. But I also got an answer to a question that’s long been a puzzle to me: How is it possible to coauthor fiction?

Coauthoring nonfiction is a no-brainer: You go with your own voice and your area of expertise. Let’s say you’re writing about growing vegetables in hot climates, and one of you gardens in the hot, humid South and the other in the arid Southwest. So each of you talks about growing veggies in hot climates, but one addresses growing them in a dry, arid climate in alkaline soil and the other talks about how to grow them in a hot but moisture-rich climate where the soil is fertile and more neutral to slightly acidic. Each of you tells which varieties grow best in your area, and each of you provides tips and timelines geared to your area.

The same would be true if you were writing about raising the perfect dog or doing home repairs: Each contributes his/her own knowledge and expertise, each brings his/her own voice. It’s even fine to disagree on some points, since that also provides the reader with options and gives the authors authenticity.  

But fiction? Fiction is the product of the imagination, after all, so it’s a deeply personal vision. I’ve written several novels, and can’t imagine co-creating them with anyone else. They’re mine, and I’m only willing to allow someone else to share them if they also become theirs as readers. And yet, as a fan of fantasy fiction, I’m certainly aware that many of the books are written by not one but two authors. I haven’t read any of these, but they must sell because so many people opt for coauthoring as well as writing their own books.

I’ll admit, I’d always cynically assumed that a better-known author leant his or her name to the project and some other poor slob actually wrote it, perhaps drawing on characters and a plot line created by the first author. But I had an eye-opening lesson in what actually happens when a pair of coauthors collaborate on a fiction book.

The two presenters, who both also work on their own solo projects, have collaborated on an entire series of young adult fiction books. The way they do it is to each create a lead character and write from that character’s perspective. Then they alternate writing chapters, so every other chapter is told from their character’s perspective.

To make sure things aren’t heading in wildly different directions, they edit and comment on each other’s chapters, and they get together frequently (in person and by phone and e-mail) to discuss plot developments. This ensures that you don’t end up with Sage going to an ashram in India while Savannah is stranded on an ice floe in the Arctic (unless, of course, that’s the way you both actually want the plot to develop). And of course they do a lot of talking about characters and plot before the fingers ever hit the keyboard.

Oh. That made a lot of sense! Now I can see how it’s possible for two people to contribute equally to a work of fiction, without one parasitizing the other. I can even see how it could be fun, but for me, just as a writing exercise, not a publishing venture. I still want my novels to be all mine!

                 ‘Til next time,




1. gold price - August 16, 2012

I am working on a project at the moment which is young adult, fantasy fiction novel. I have read quite a few titles in an attempt to make a decision on whether my book should be written in first or third person. However this is turning into a bigger decision then I thought it would.

I can only suggest that you try it from every angle rather than be paralyzed hoping you’ll pick the right one. My favorite novel that I’ve written has three versions, one written by a protagonist, one by an observer, and one by a neutral third party. I really enjoyed it as a writing exercise, it was incredibly fun!

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