Monday Muse: How To Write Like A Cactus

Greetings, readers of Nerd Cactus, and welcome to us getting back into the swing of things after Stratford. The fact that this is happening only a week out is an improvement over last year, when it took us at least two. So, let’s get going…

One of the most common questions I get is, “what’s it like to write with someone else?” After all, writing is mostly a solitary act; it’s one person facing the great abyss of white and attempting to fill it with letters. Two people trying to pick the right word is basically a recipe for disaster, right?

Not if you plan ahead of time.

Yeah, that’s really the secret to writing well with another person: No Pantsing. Because you’ve got two (or even more) people working on the same story, all of whom need to be working toward the same goal. A novel (or screenplay, script, whatever) needs to be a single vision, a piece entire without distractions or digressions. Every single person needs to be on the exact same page.

(Just not at the same time. But more on that in a second.)

The only way to get that done is to plan, plan, plan. If you’re not a plotter, you need to learn to be one if you want to write with someone else. There is simply no way for pansting to work. Two different people just writing the story with the plan on going back to edit later? Do you know how IMPOSSIBLE those edits would be? It’s hard enough to edit for consistency in word choice and syntax; the last thing you need is two stories that simply don’t fit together. So, before you write together, you’ve got to plan together.

In the case of Killing Mercutio, A and I spent months creating character bios, character arcs, and a detailed outline right down to the individual chapters. We had a Book Bible, for lack of a better word. And then, to ensure that each character was completely consistent over the entire novel, we split the six POV characters between us. Each character was then allowed to have slight variations in writing style that could be explained as character voice. Thus, A and I were allowed to write on our own (hence the not at the same time comment above) based on the shared vision of the bio. Then, whenever we finished a chapter, we immediately sent it to the other person for their opinion.

Basically, we created a Bible, wrote on our own, and workshopped each chapter extensively. Then, when the whole thing was done, I took the time to edit the whole thing for any foibles and then A, who got a couple months away, went back for an objective clean-up. By the time we sent the thing off to Beta Readers, it had been workshopped and edited twice as much as a novel by a single writer.

See, that’s what we like about collaborating. As much work as it takes, as much as it means occasionally compromising on your vision for a novel (though, to be honest, A and I did very little compromising because our vision was developed together), writing with someone else means you always have another pair of eyes with as much at stake and as much passion for a project as you. And, of course, the other person can never escape all the excited babbling (and probably wants to talk, too), which is the best thing a writer could ask for.

Well… there you have it. That’s how to write like a Cactus. I’ll be back on Friday to pair War and Peace because that’s what I’m reading now and if I have to pair it, I might read faster… (It’s not an easy read, guys.)



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