Often when Chris and I tell someone that we have co-authored a novel, we get asked the question, “How did you write a book together?”
It has been so long now since we started working together, that the idea of not writing as a unit feels strange to me! Our novel is something we created between us, which has bonded us as spouses and helped us grow in our relationship. I have frequently said to Chris, “I never could have written this book on my own.” Only both of us could have written it, together.
But exactly how did we do it, practically speaking?
We began by talking together—usually while cleaning up from dinner, but sometimes while driving—about the “big picture.” Where was the plot going? What key scenes needed to happen? How would we get the characters where they needed to be? We would talk it through, building on and modifying each other’s ideas.
When imagining and planning our novel, we both have different interests and strengths. I enjoy focusing on the inner conflict: the relationships and interplay between characters. Chris is excellent at constructing the outer conflict: the political milieu and unique climate our characters exist within. We have differing tendencies too. I lean more toward the fantastical or supernatural. Chris is a wonderful counter-balance to that, always challenging me to rein that in a little to keep the plot more believable, realistic, and approachable to a wider audience.
Through these conversations, we would hash out a plan. Then one of us would take those plans and write the initial draft of a chapter or two: a very basic foundation from which we could build. We originally used Microsoft Word, but have since switched to Google Drive, since we find that an easier way to collaborate and suggest edits. If I wrote the initial draft of a chapter, I would share it to Chris for him to edit and review. Sometimes he would dramatically alter it, but other times he would make suggestions for changes. Any controversial recommendations we would review together, discussing and reaching a resolution. Through the process, we would have regular conversations touching base about challenges, plot holes, character development, etc.
Writing together is like a tennis game, volleying the ball across the net. We would send each other chapters back and forth, editing and tweaking each other’s words. Sometimes this became a challenge where the “voice” of the narration changed too much in spots. In early drafts of In the Shadows of Freedom, I could actually pinpoint specific paragraphs that Chris wrote amongst others I may have written. As we worked through drafts, however, editing and refining things, we smoothed out those inconsistencies.
We have since learned to maximize our different writing styles to our benefit: in the second installment of the trilogy, which is our current project, we have some chapters from a male character’s point of view. Chris wrote the initial draft of those chapters and I found it exciting to read the spin that he puts on things, since, as a man, he can more naturally write “inside” a man’s head.
In the editing process, it helped to have two different sets of eyes, looking for different things. I am terrible at employing correct idioms and turns of phrase. Chris always spots those errors and fixes them. He also has a great mastery of grammar and proper use of the English language, so he can ensure that we use words correctly and have the best sentence structure. When I edit, I analyze stylistic issues: do we employ words that show, not tell? I try to eliminate passive voice and swap out weak verbs for stronger ones.
We wrote the first draft of our novel in about three months; it took about eleven years to edit and perfect it. While that’s the topic of another blog post, I mention this because editing became such a substantive part of our work. Sometimes this meant changing whole sections of the plot, a painful, but necessary task. Chris and I are blessed to have a generally harmonious relationship and work together cooperatively. Rarely did we ever have strong disagreements on edits. In fact, I can only recall one strong disagreement and that pertained to one of the final, pivotal scenes of In the Shadows of Freedom. Originally we had a very different resolution to the plot, one that had been my idea. Chris felt that it wasn’t realistic enough and posed a whole new concept. At first I disagreed, but he defended his case and soon I realized that his idea was actually brilliant! So, as is the case in general, practicing humility and flexibility were key aspects of working together in writing this novel.
Building a Book … Building a Relationship
It has been a gift to have this shared hobby together. Our novel has followed up through so many experiences of our married life. It has grown as we have matured, both as individuals and as a couple. Reading a book is a wonderful way to relax, to step outside your immediate world with its demands and worries, and to enter a whole new experience. Well, writing is like that in many ways as well. Building a world with Chris has been a joy and I am excited to share our creation with all of you!