Monday, 18 February 2008

The ups and downs of not getting into bed together

Most collaborative writing involves two or more people sitting down and talking to one another. It also often involves things as a writer I’m not particularly enamoured with: detailed planning; plot outlines; character cards, perhaps even psychometric profiles; maps; story arcs; arguments. Most big budget films and television productions are either the result of the work of a team of writers, or a script that’s gone through the blender with different authors at various times. Often all that’s left is a Hollywood goo. But the process can also result in some great stuff.

The common theme either way tends to be that the creators are in a room/pub with one another for at least a portion of time, and all have an agreed understanding of how events are due to proceed. Perhaps that’s very wise. It certainly seems easier than the approach Aliya and I have taken so far. For a start, it doesn’t involve one party (me) rattling off to the other (Poot… er, Aliya) about a dozen disparate and often contradictory emails about how so and so met whoever and why this company is no longer employing such and such. And how the aliens aren’t aliens anymore, even though half the characters (mainly your ones, who are in the dark as much as you are, poor things) still believe they are, etc, etc. And then trusting the other person enough that they’ll come out the end of it with a perfectly executed piece of uncontrived writing that the first party never had a hope of Hell in producing alone. And also hoping that they haven’t had enough of the first pary’s demanding behaviour and lop-sided approach and just throw in the towel and be done with it. It’s pretty frustrating method a lot of the time, as unlike in the case of Nikki French, there’s never the opportunity to roll over in bed and suggest: ‘What do you think about making Mrs X the one with the wooden leg instead?’

But on the other hand, it’s fascinating to sketch the vaguest of drafts, and have someone produce an oil on canvas from it. And the no-discussion-unless-vital rule makes the process feel less forced; more organic. More like proper writing. Of course, I’ve not been on the receiving end yet.

Some pros

  • You’ll produce work that you could never have achieved alone
  • Writing stimulation: it’s like pass-the-parcel and rare to get a block when inundated with the possibilities the other writer presents
  • You get to read and write

Some cons

  • You’ll have someone else’s expectations to live up to
  • It’s harder to throw away a hundred pages of writing that’s not panned out well
  • You will never know when a bunch of dancing penguins will turn up in the strangest of places


Aliya Whiteley said...

I knew I'd never live down those penguins.

Tim Stretton said...

The dancing penguins are on the "cons" list? The joy of fiction is finding them in unexpected places...

Aliya Whiteley said...

How I wish it was a metaphor, Tim. But no - I just had some literal penguins in the wrong continent. Put it down to a bad geography teacher.

David Isaak said...

I like dancing penguins. In the primitive arcade game PENGO, if you won (by having your penguin push ice cubes to crush the monsters), a chorus line of penguins came out and danced to The Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth.

Dancing Penguins, like fresh-baked bread or sun-ripened tomatoes (sorry about the tomato mention, Aliya) are intrinsically a good thing.