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Friday, June 13, 2008

The Rouge Wave Mailbag

Dear Wave-inatrix:
I have a question about writing partnerships. How do you structure the writing process? I've heard of several different ways: each person writes a version of a scene and you either combine or pick the better version or you alternate scenes, you sit in a room together and dictate/write together. How do you manage this process especially long distance?
-Partnered in Pennsylvania

Dear Partnered:

While I can only speak specifically about my own experience, which is long distance, I do know partners who literally work elbow-to-elbow as they beat out the outline and write scenes. Personally, I would find that a bit claustrophobic. Whether you are writing in partnership or alone, I think we writers do need that quiet time to really get into the zone. But maybe that's me.

My partner and I work thusly: We spend the outlining process on the phone - a lot. During that initial process, we brainstorm our new idea together and then begin emailing each other rough outlines. Who's at bat depends on who has the time that day or week. In our case the time difference is a huge benefit - I can get pages to my partner by end of day my time and he'll be up and working on it long before I'm up the next day. We LOVE it.

So we write using a sequential narrative outline and as above, phone and email our contributions and ideas until we have an outline we like. Then it's time for pages. Because we use the sequential, someone starts off by writing the first sequence. All ten pages or until he or I get stuck. We send that sequence, the other person reads over it, makes small tweaks and here's the best part - we leave script notes for each other within the text. So you click on the little box and you might find: I thought we agreed this isn't believable? Or - So do you like this? Sometimes, depending on where we are with the draft, we might pass the script to whoever's turn it is and say simply: Can you cut three pages out of this sequence? We also leave each other notes within dialogue, which is, I'll go ahead and take the liberty of saying, one of our funniest, funnest ways of communicating. So you might have:

Christine: What have you done with my son?
Joan: I don't know, but it's pretty bad, I'm guessing. Killed him?
Christine: Well that really sucks. Whatever you did. We need to figure this out.

We simply pass the baton back and forth - like running a marathon, we spell each other. The notes within the pages plus more emails and phone calls help in the process as well. The thing about our partnership that is just so amazing is that we love each other's work so if I got the pages back, for example, and my partner had changed something I'd written, I either didn't really notice or just loved it anyway. In the end result, in our case, when I read our pages now, I really can't tell who wrote what - such does our writing blend.

So whether you can work in each other's presence, literally, or if you pass the pages back and forth leaving script notes within the pages - you have to find the rhythm that works for you. And most importantly, you have to suspend your own ego in favor of the story in general. For me, it was always a delight to get the pages back, go over them and see the improvements and progress my partner had made. Because we had agreed on our outline in the first place, we never just plain add a scene or beat that was not discussed. If one of us thinks of a scene or a new beat or development that would really shift things - we call each other first. I think there's a bit of a gentleman's agreement - you don't just throw something in that wasn't discussed.

Now bear in mind, we write psychological thrillers - comedy writers really find it helpful to work in the same room when writing comedic scenes. That way the energy bounces off each other and the comedy reaches greater heights.

There are other friends/colleagues that I work with but not as an equal partner - more as a supportive creative source. I'm spending time with a dear friend who has a ROCKIN script this weekend, in fact. I don't do any page work, just review scenes and sequences and be there as a brainstorm partner, taskmaster and cheerleader. If you have someone you know whose story you really love, that's a great way to exercise your creativity while giving back to the creative abundance pool.

I hope that answers your question, Partnered!

Keep those questions coming, Wavers - we love it!

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