Two writers / one story – a methodolgy

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When I worked in movies, I often had writers moaning that their work can be so solitude and depressing at times. Also they were haunted by this thing called “writer´s block” and had nobody they could discuss new ideas with.

However, when I suggested to bring in a co-author they heavily rejected as it never worked out for them. Never. Mainly due to “creative differences”; this basically means that one author kept on deleting the other author´s favorite bits and vice versa.

For that reason I came up with a little step-by-step methodology that helps two authors writing on the same project without interfering with each other´s work too much.

Separate creating from analyzing … !

And here it is:

  • Assumptions

People die in analysis. This methodology separates creation steps from analysis and allows to write a first draft in a relative short time frame.

My strong belief is: When you write, you write. When you edit, you edit. Those should be completely separate tasks.

If you edit and criticise your own work while you´re writing, chances are that you deprive yourself from the most unusual and best ideas. There is constantly this little critic sitting on your shoulder and wants you to cut the bad bits.

But remember Hemingway´s words: ‘the first draft is always bad’. It is your job is to get something on the page in the first place. Anything. Then at least you have some content to work on. (A lot of aspiring writers fail at that stage as they are too afraid to make mistakes and rather don´t do anything)

(Please note that this methodology was designed for screenwriters. However, it can be arguably used for any kind of writing project. Fiction or Non-Fiction.)

Cut means cut

  • Rules (yes, they are necessary)
  1. No commenting, criticizing or analyzing of the other author´s writing efforts in creation times in any shape or form. There are dedicated analysis slots where you can discuss and analyze the work.
  2. If a story-element gets cut by any author, it is out for good with no discussions and cannot be re-introduced. (This is the most important bit. If you don´t follow it, one author will be deleting the other author´s darlings, and the other author will re-introduce them and then the other author will cut them again and so and so on. An infinite vicious circle)
  • Time

No time limit or goals; though the process should be quick to not lose momentum. Ideally don´t leave more than a week in-between steps.

Groundwork

STEPS

  • Groundwork: This is the step when the two writers sit together and decide on some basics. For simplicity reasons I call them writer A and B from now on.

Writers A and B agree on:

  1. a premise (a simple “what if”-question that reflects the story they do want to write about; e.g. the premise of Jaws: What if a big white shark attacks a beach resort? Simple)
  2. a genre (could be a mixed genre like SciFi-Comedy)
  3. a controlling idea (the message; what do you want to express with your story?)
  4. a setting (could be multiple settings, e.g. a road movie)
  5. the tone of voice (that´s an important one; if the two writers write with different tones it will be hard to get the story together)
  6. main characters (ideally aim for 1-3 main and 4-5 side characters for the start)

Step-by-Step development

Ok, now that the groundwork is done, the writers start working separately and hand over their work after each step.

  • Step I – Creation: Writer A writes an expose (2-3 pages) based on the agreed groundwork and hands it over to B
  • Step II – Creation: Writer B re-writes the expose, cuts, amends and adds whatever he wants.
  • Step III – Creation: Writer A re-writes what he gets from Writer B.
  • Step IV – Analysis: Writers A and B get together and discuss what they created so far.
  • Step V – Creation: Writer B writes a beat sheet (one sentence for each beat/scene) based on the expose and discussion.
  • Step VI – Creation: Writer B re-writes the beat sheet.
  • Step VII – Creation: Writer A re-writes and polishes the beat sheet.
  •  Step VIII – Analysis: Writers A and B get 
together and discuss what they created so far.
  •  Step IX – Creation: Writer A writes the first draft ; based on the beat sheet and discussions 
(this is probably the longest step).
  •  Step X – Creation: Writer B re-writes and hands over.
  •  Step XI – Creation: Writer A re-writes and 
polishes the first draft.
  •  Step XII: Discussions, dialogue polishing. DONE!

DONE!

Congratulations! At this point you should have a workable first draft. Now you can repeat steps X-XII until you´re happy enough with your result to get it out there.

Worth a try. We had some good results with this method. Really.

Oh, and if you try it, it would be interesting to hear what you are experiences were….

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