The Art of Collaboration
Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
Plotter: A writer who carefully plans the story they’re going to write, laying out a logical plot chapter by chapter and actually sticking with the plan.
Pantster: A seat-of-the-pants writer who doesn’t know on page five what’s going to happen on page six.
We’ve been friends for twenty-five years, and have been writing together for ten. In addition to our individual work, we’ve jointly written four novels in those ten years. One of the questions we hear most frequently is “What’s it like to work together?”
Fun. Maddening. Exciting. Creatively stimulating. And always a new experience. Every book comes together in a different way.
We’re both pantsters. When writing our individual books we each start with an idea, our characters, maybe an important scene or two and the ending, which could (and often does) very well change. With these in our heads we go, never knowing exactly where the path will lead us. Writing together requires planning time ahead of the first page. We discuss characters, ideas, scenes, before we ever write a word. Then we start writing and everything changes. If one of us was a plotter, the process would be so much easier! As it turns out, we still don’t always know where the path will lead us.
You’d think with two of us writing together we’d cut our production time in half. Nope. It probably takes us twice as long to write a book together as it does to write one on our own. We go back and forth, each of us reading and re-reading each section. There have been times when one character or another belonged more to one of us than the other, but there’s not a single sentence that we both don’t read, edit, revise, read again.
Some writers who work together alternate chapters. We’ve never done that. In fact, whenever a reader says, “I know who write that part,” we might ask “Who?” because we simply don’t remember.
Chapters and scenes fly back and forth, by email or in person, if we’ve gotten together to work away from home, which we often do. Book discussions are frequent, long, and even though we sometimes disagree, fun. If we see different paths, we always find a way to compromise somewhere in the middle.
Somewhere along the way, we discovered that we “see” scenes in mirror image. If one of us imagines a living room on the right, the other will imagine it on the left, which made for confusing times for things as simple as in which direction the character was moving. Even our mental furniture placement is in mirror-image.
Once we realized this, we took steps to keep it from happening. We have to have floor plans, with furniture placement, or we have characters walking into walls. We have to have road maps. We have to make sure that in a scene we see the character approaching a destination from the same direction, or once again, everything is backwards. This can be crucial if gunfire is involved.
We double- and triple-check everything, and details still slip past us, which is par for the course whether writing a book solo or as a duo. It’s funny the tricks that our brains play on us, so that we see what we know should be there and ignore reality, which is misspelled words, wrong words, a complete breakdown of logic or — in one memorable case — when we killed more people than were actually in the room. That takes real talent. And we counted! We did. Over and over, and made a list of the dead people. And yet, when the edits came, there it was: an unaccounted-for body. Who was he? Where did he come from? The answer will never be known, because we got rid of him so fast it was as if he’d never been there.
We get so excited when we plan a book together, because all the creating is fun. We know we’ll be taking some road trips for research. We hammer out a plot, which of course gets tossed aside as soon as we begin writing because we aren’t plotters, but it’s a starting point. Mostly it gives us the names of the characters and the physical setting. Everything else is up in the air, subject to change, and at some point we’ll look at each other and say, “This won’t work. We have to change everything.”
That’s how we know we’re on target.
Individually and together, New York Times bestselling authors Linda Howard and Linda Jones have written more than 130 books. Neither Linda is capable of, or interested in, always writing in the same sub-genre, so their books might fall into any one of several romance sub-genres: romantic suspense, paranormal, contemporary, historical, adventure, humor, time-travel. They cover them all. Their latest joint effort is After Sundown, which will be released March 31, 2020. They have a shared Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LindaHowardLindaJones/, where they talk about food, dogs, coffee, and life in general.