I once claimed that I could never work with other writers on a collaborative project. In sports, at work, I can be a team player. But writing? That’s a solitary activity. Just me, my ideas and the empty page.
So it was a bit of a surprise when one day I woke up to find myself as part of a collaborative writing project! You may remember me mentioning the character of Captain Juan, a character made up as a joke on the spur of the moment.
Well, I wound up taking the Captain for a quick spin around a few [Fiction] Friday entries.
Then the Captain went sailing – firstly to Annie Evett’s blog, then to Jodi Cleghorn’s blog. And now, the Captain has wound up on his own site. So, what is my point, beyond shameless publicity for a project I’m involved in?
This is the first collaborative writing project I’ve participated in, and to make it tougher, the character is mine. I created him, and I have an idea in my mind of what he looks like, what motivates him, his background, his essence. So it has been a little strange seeing him go off and be interpreted by other writers. Other writers with different styles of writing, different interests. Writers unaware of the unconscious backstory I had for this character.
Not only has the character wandered elsewhere, he is encountering characters I would never have created, in situations I would not have put him in. I will admit, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment to make. My visceral reaction has been possessive and a little petulant. No! He’s my character, I don’t want him to do that. I’m taking my toys home with me!
Thankfully, this has been only a fleeting reaction. The project has taken a satirical, one-joke character, and wholly transformed him into a fully-fleshed, well-rounded character with depth, personality, motivation and drive. It has turned a funny story into a story worth telling. The unexpected plot developments catch me as unawares as any other reader. I then have to raise my game, to either develop, resolve, or enhance the twists in the tale. I get to shape and influence the development of characters who are not mine, as much as my colleagues get to with my characters.
Sometimes I have wound up thinking “why did you do X, now I can’t do Y”. I’m sure that I will have that reaction many times as the story develops, and I am equally certain that Annie and Jodi have, and will experienced the same reaction to things I’ve written into the story. That’s the disadvantage of a collaborative project, especially one were all parties have equal say in how the story develops. But it’s also what makes it so exciting and vibrant.
As writers we often talk about characters doing things that surprise us – in this case, it is literally true. We each cannot say with certainty what will happen next, only that we will have to accept it, process it, and make use of it.
I would highly recommend everyone who wants to improve as a writer should try writing collaboratively. It can shake you out of complacency, drive you on to better your craft, and force you to set aside your ego, in order to let the characters come to the fore.