On Co-Writing a Novel
When my good friend, David Pilling, and I decided to write a novel together we had no idea where to start. We had both written plenty of stuff individually, but how do you coordinate a dual effort?
Before we could think of the actual story, we had to decide how we would both contribute to a book without it being disjointed and difficult to read. After a few decent ales and a good chat, we came up with the idea of a story with two main protagonists who are born on opposite sides of a world, have never met, but are inexorably drawn to each other, for reasons we were yet to think of!
The plan seemed perfect because it meant we had two main characters, each with a life, enemies, friends, culture, religion, who didn’t meet until the end of the book. I would write about one character and David would write about the other. And so The Best Weapon flickered into life.
Our plan of action turned out to be the first step towards a story line and, over a few more ales, we thrashed out a rough outline of the synopsis. Then, feeling rather excited and eager to get started, we both went home to start work on our first chapter. A few days later we were reading each other’s first efforts. It was good to see the characters we had ranted about in the pub come to.
The great thing about co-writing is that you have instant feedback on everything you write, but to take full advantage of this you absolutely have to be completely honest with each other. It is really important that you point something out which you don’t think works and are equally happy to take criticism. If you’re working with the right person, it’ll work well.
We are both influenced by the same authors, Bernard Cornwall, Robert E Howard, Joe Abercrombie and Rafael Sabatini to name a few, and our writing styles are similar. We found that what we had written fitted together fairly seamlessly and those few close friends and family who read the first couple of chapters couldn’t tell who had written what or where I stopped and he started. We took that as a good sign.
Over the following six months, we would meet around twice a week and talk about the story. We would discuss ideas for plot-changes and developments, often getting quite heated in our debates. These discussions were really important. Being able to bounce ideas off one another meant that we could develop them into some thing which we felt was really exciting.
On a personal note, I have learned a lot from working with someone who has a bit more writing experience and a much better education (he spent a lot of time correcting me spelling!) and now I have more confidence to write on my own.
If I had any advice for anyone thinking of co-writing a book, it would be to be completely honest with each other from the start. Don’t be afraid to criticise or suggest improvements about your co-writer’s work, it is all about the two of you coming up with the best story you can by using the best of both your skills. Most of all, you should really enjoy writing together because the more you enjoy writing it, the more someone else will enjoy reading it…
Martin Bolton was born in Cornwall in 1979 and now lives and works in Bristol.
Previously he concentrated on his artwork and writing small pieces of nonsense for the
amusement of his friends, before deciding to do some serious creative writing. His first published
work, a full length novel co-written with David Pilling, is The Best Weapon, is due to be released
by Musa Publishing on 02 March 2012..
His work is inspired by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Robert E Howard, Bernard
Cornwell and Iain M. Banks.