A Very Tired Fangirl :) (jij) wrote in superhero_muses,
A Very Tired Fangirl :)

Workshop: "How to Write With Someone Else" by Merfilly and Ilyena_Sylph

How To Write With Someone Else

By ilyena_sylph and merfilly

merfilly: Thank you for letting us both come and ramble at you. I'm going to step up right quick and point out I'm far from an expert on this particular subject. I have seen some excellent partnerships in writing on LJ, one of which jumps straight to mind being mtgat and dotfic. What we do might not be for everyone, and I'd love to get other impressions.

One thing about writing with someone else, is knowing just what you want to accomplish. This can be done through comment spam, instant messages, email, or actual ohmigoodness talking on a phone. Whatever medium you use with your chosen victim partner, you can hash out the idea, the guidelines for how you see the fic going, even little details that you can already see as needing to get in there.

Sometimes this means compromise. An idea one has may bounce wrong off the other, or conflict with the other's vision. Fast and furious give and take is the key to hashing out the early framework…and you might find yourself filing away ideas for future follow up.

Now, how do we do it? That is where having two chat programs comes in so handy. Because Yena and I rarely write huge chunks separate, this is what works for us. We keep one program up with the story, each of us writing the characters we were chosen by are supposed to, plus the bits of plot that are relevant from our character's POV. The second chat program allows us to make random commentary to each other, in case we need something clarified or have a question on the direction…or we just want to boo/cheer what the other's muse just did.

Occasionally, one muse will have a solo piece within a story. We break from the writing, let the one responsible handle that scene, often encouraging the other to show their character's actions during the same period, and then email it for approval. If there is anything to be edited, we get it right then, so the flow of the story can pick right back up.

Choosing when to break the story is sometimes the hardest part of co-writing. I tend to want to keep the bits small, so they can be posted more frequently. Sometimes the muses refuse to cooperate, and we wind up letting them ramble it out. It comes down to a matter of feel…have they said all that was needed, and is the scene at a clear breaking point?

How do you know when to end a story? *looks at list of completed, co-written fics, and is embarrassed* In the case of Klarion's Curse, we knew we had an end goal. With A Darker Path, we also know we have an end goal. That comes back to the initial discussion of what you want to accomplish.

Okay, I'm going to toss the ball to Yena now, and see what thoughts she can add.

ilyena_sylph: *waves* Hey, all. It's Yena now, (Be afraid?) and I'm gonna see what I can add to what the brilliant one had to say.

Hm... Damn, she's good. (I say that a lot).

What she said about the "fast and furious give and take"? That's got to be the most crucial thing. I think almost everyone reading this writes at least a little, so you know how it feels when you get that "bam, Idea!" moment going on--and getting "but, no, that doesn't work with [x, y, z]" can really, really suck... but you've just got to accept it, look at why your partner said "no, no, that doesn't work", and either argue them out of it or give in gracefully, accept that sometimes your ideas are utter crack, and just move on. Eventually, it's gonna be you going "No, no, that doesn't jive with [a, b, c]", and them having to deal with it.

And those "no, that doesn't work" ideas? Can sometimes turn into pretty decent solo fics or fic-bits.

I thought maybe I'd talk a bit about how our writing-together process has evolved, due to the fact that someone wanted to see it...

Looking back, I laugh a lot at how nervous I used to be about things, how careful we both were about crediting the other one, how insistent we were that everyone knew who had handled what... Look at us now. I don't think either one of us care much.

The first thing we ever worked on "together" was the Inheritance fic series. [For the S/B fans, the first part is Ollie/Dick (I can't help the fact that the book screams it), then Dick/Roy as things should be.] We'd been yattering madly about the book, I started writing fic for it... but I was afraid I'd handle Ollie badly in the third part, so I had her (She was right in the middle of writing tons of Ollie/Dinah) help me deal with him in the confrontation he winds up having with Bruce. She worked me through the dialogue, reminded me Ollie's a lot more capable than he was portrayed in that book, and was just a big help.

The same day, she wrote the fourth part of that series by herself, throwing me the perfect Ollie and Dinah confrontation. My 'Verse, her Characters, and it was perfect.

Of course, I then turned around and did the same thing to her, due to an insanely vivid dream about an ongoing series of hers. I felt horrible for having this entire piece just drop into my head, and I couldn't not write it down, so I posted it privately to her--and she demanded I share it. Her 'Verse, my take on the characters, and it seems to have worked all right, considering she added it to the series master list.

Then... then IT happened.

The "IT" is coldfiredragon's fic "Forever is an Awful Long Time".

For the Superman/Batman fans, or the more sensitive, or just the non-Nightwing fans, I will explain. "Forever is an Awful Long Time" is set during the Renegade arc (a STUPID piece of bad writing [imho] by Devin Grayson, in which Nightwing winds up pretty gladly and willingly working with and for Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke the Terminator), and takes the fact that Dick and Slade have an... insanely complicated relationship even in canon to whole new levels when Slade demands Dick chose forever which side he's on... and seals the bargain by giving Dick the serum that made him what he is and Rose what she became. (Yes, I know, Rose was crazy, but that was Joey's fault for overdosing her).

That fic is set pre-Infinite Crisis, by definition... and that's a very, very bad thing.

I used that setting in what was supposed to be a one-off piece, written for the Non-Con prompt for 50kinkyways. It's called "Broken Pasts, Darker Futures", and was supposed to be just a one-shot...

But then, I was talking to Filly one night, it suddenly HIT me, just what I'd Done. Coldfire had turned Dick to evil... but I'd murdered the Outsiders. Kory and Jade weren't going to be there to go with Donna to space. Roy wasn't going to be there to stop the prison breaks. Dick wasn't going to be there to take Kon to the Tower. Or to help Bruce. Or any of the other things he was doing through the Crisis...

...and then I realized what I'd done to the Titans. To the JSA. To Kyle, to Connor, to Bruce, to Ollie...

I freaked out. I realized what I'd done... and that that story needed to be told. (At least, I thought it did)

So I begged and pleaded for her help in re-writing Infinite Crisis to account for what I'd done... and for some reason, she agreed to help me. I never would have gotten as far as we have without her. We brainstormed for probably hours, trying to lay out the events... some of which have gotten tossed as we went on.

But, anyway. This is supposed to be about the hows, not the whys.

I wrote the first few bits, struggling to take the one-off kink-fic I'd written and make the characters motivations make sense... and Slade decided he needed a mother for Rose and Lian. The choice, when you add Filly's brainstorming to the rationale, was obvious. Dinah Lance, one of Filly's main muses, so I handed both of them off with much pleading to her... and she rocked it.

At this point, we were mainly throwing pieces of fic back and forth, solid chunks in both of our distinct voices, and jumping only rarely into IM to deal with each other's particular muses, and being very careful to make sure appropriate credit was given. Like, I would write a section, and hand it over to her, she'd work her characters in and give it back, and I'd keep going from that point... That was interesting, by the way, trying to incorporate the two distinct styles we have into one coherent piece... and then the first time that we had muses that just had to talk to each other extensively happened, and we started just writing to each other in one chat program, talking in the other one, and working through things...

"Nightmares and Pancakes" and "Picking up the Pieces" come to mind as the earliest examples of that style... and it's what we still do, now, almost exclusively.

Once we realized how well it worked, how awesome it was to have that give and take of muses back and forth, the way it just... moves between them sometimes without letting either of us get a word in edgewise or any control over our fingers... we've never stopped. We keep finding ways to fiddle with the style, and sometimes we have to stop, back up, and try again...

Sure, like she said, sometimes one character gets all introspective, or two that reside solely in one or the other of us need to have a scene and the other has to step out of the way for a bit... but there's nothing quite like the way it works when we're both so deep in the characters and reacting like them... Like Menolly said about quartet playing, "it's like... it's like flying on a dragon!"

That does get interesting, by the way. We've had more fics go so utterly sideways because of being so deeply in one muse that the other's intent is completely opaque to both the other writer and the other writer's muse that things go bad and we're stuck struggling to get through it because that wasn't where we meant to go but it was the right reaction for the character... (Please, tell me if that doesn’t make sense, it might be me not saying things well...)

merfilly: Yeah, like she said. Playing off each other's muses can lead to "oh heck" moments where we go "WTF?" at each other. Ollie seems to be a bad muse for me to do that. His motivations, from time to time, drive me insane. I know I'm staying perfectly in character, Yena will see it, but the logic is buggy.

What do you do? You talk it out again. You try to show just why the character did that. And you listen to your partner on whether you need to backtrack, because that reaction, no matter how in character, is threatening to ruin an entire fic.

The recent Fic Of Pains we've been writing are one example. The most recent piece posted, "Pressure of Existence", had about two and a half pages just ripped out and redone. I had written Ollie, did not like the way he was reacting, no matter that it felt right, and jumped us back to a point where he could have reacted in one of two ways, choosing the other path. I told Yena why, and she let it run.

Conversely, with Dick and Dinah in A Darker Path, we ran into a very bad conversation, one that made those two muses on edge for the rest of the fic's life. One of us did not like that, and the other argued that it would be just that way…and the decision to let it stand was made.

So, in the end, what co-writing boils down to is massive give and take. No two partners are going to do it the same. When I write with darkdanc3r, we use a similar technique, but it tends to be a little less debate, a lot more just letting it ride and seeing how it turns out. I think the best advice I'd give any two people who want to work together, is just make sure you are talking the whole time you evolve the fic.

Questions? Suggestions? We're all ears.

Tags: co-writing, ilyena_sylph, merfilly, workshop

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