Hi, SEers! Welcome to a Mae Day on SE. It’s also a Staci Troilo day because she and I wrote The Haunting of Chatham Hollow together, and that’s what I’d like to discuss today—writing with a co-author. It’s definitely a rewarding experience.
But what happens when one of you is a plotter and the other is a pantser? If you’re thinking Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple, it’s not that extreme, but there are adjustments to be made on both ends.
Before I start, I’d like to mention SE members, John Howell and Gwen Plano who co-authored The Contract: between Heaven and Earth wrote an excellent four part series on co-authoriship, which will give you another perspective on the process. You can find their posts here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.
Staci and I have been online friends for a long time. We also critique for each other, so it seemed a natural progression that the idea of writing a novel together would surface.
The first order of business was coming up with a bare-bones idea.
We tossed around a few, then settled on one we both liked. Our brainstorming session was done over the phone with ideas for the major characters, basic premise, and opening scenes. The next day I had a few pages of handwritten rambling notes. I opened my email to find a scene-by-scene outline in a Word document neatly detailing everything we had discussed.
Did I mention Staci is a plotter?
Did I mention I’m a pantser?
I still have those original set of notes with Staci’s path laid out like a clean and precise trail leading to a final destination. Now imagine detours corkscrewing in multiple directions with more forking from them and you’ve added the influence of a pantser/planster.
But we made it work.
The Haunting of Chatham Hollow has dual timelines—one set in the present, and one set during the 19thCentury—which helped us work out writing responsibilities. When you’re co-authoring a novel, there are a few approaches:
Authors write alternating chapters.
Author #1 writes a scene, author #2 reviews, tweaks, then writes the next scene which author #1 reviews and tweaks, followed by writing the next scene, and so on through the novel.
I’m sure there are other methods as well. Staci and I decided we would each take a timeline. I would write the chapters set in the past and she would write those in the present. I enjoy the language, dialogue, and social nuances of earlier eras whereas Staci has a flair for contemporary voice and settings, so it was an ideal solution.
What followed were numerous email exchanges and phone calls, along with sharing chapters as we wrote them. We stuck with our main characters mostly as outlined, but after a few chapters, the plot went off the rails
Thus began the pantsing.
We each added secondary characters who ended up factoring into key parts of the story (even plotters like Staci veer from an outline when characters and/or plot dictate). Because we wanted our sections to gel—an occurrence in the past would prompt an action in the present, she was often waiting for me to write the action before she could address the consequences. We also had to be careful of setting details as we were both using the same town, one structure in particular. If I put a doorway in a certain corner of a room, it needed to remain there in the present unless structural renovations had occurred.
Despite the different ways in which we worked, The Haunting of Chatham Hollow was an easy book to write. We were both thoroughly invested in the story. Discussions and ideas flowed easily between us with plenty exchanges of notes. Yes, she wore off on me. After phone discussions, I would type up detailed notes on the changes we agreed on.
If you’re thinking of co-authoring a book, pick someone you enjoy working with. Not all personalities mesh and blend, and while you might think a plotter and a pantser can’t work together, Staci and I have proven that wrong. Despite our differing approaches, our friendship and respect for each other’s writing abilities, made the plot-pants-thing a minor speedbump before we were off and running.
Pick someone whose writing level is a match for yours. If you’re a brand-new author, publishing your first book, you might want to release a few more before attempting to co-write a novel. Even for seasoned writers, there is a learning curve involved.
Pick a plot you’re both passionate about. Your love of the story will shine through in the work.
Be willing to talk through hurdles and changes. Remember you’re involved in a joint project and should arrive at any detours together.
Obviously, you’ll be critiquing your co-author’s contributions to the novel, but it doesn’t hurt to have a trusted third party willing to provide feedback on sections as they progress (thank you, Joan Hall!).
I enjoyed the co-authoring experience immensely. It’s something I always wanted to try and would certainly do again with Staci. I suspected from the start we would work well together despite our different approaches—plotter vs. pantser—to writing.
What are your thoughts on working with a co-author? Have you ever tried? Is it something you would consider doing in the future? What do you consider the benefits of writing a novel with another author and how would you approach it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Ready, set, go!