Thursday, 27 October 2011

Collaborating or flying solo? - Linda Strachan

Writing is normally a solitary occupation and I rather like that about it.

Tuscany- my shed
There is that feeling of living with and in your characters' heads, so beautifully expressed in Ellen Renner's ABBA post a couple of days ago Visitors From the World Called Imagination    

I like to slope off to Tuscany (my shed), to disappear into another place or time, and live in my head for a while.

I am not sure I know where the ideas and characters come from but I find that nothing will kill off my enthusiasm for a story idea more than  plotting it all out before I begin to write.

I prefer to discover the plot alongside my characters and feel all their uncertainty and excitement.

Without this I lose that tingle in my spine and the sense of wonder and endless possibilities that make writing such a delight and pleasure.  I have to admit that sometimes it can also become incredibly hard if I lose my way, and I imagine that those who plot carefully before they begin at least have signposts to keep them on track.  Unfortunately each time I try to plot a story out chapter by chapter beforehand, it all too soon begins to feel a bit flat.

Some writers have written successful collaborations but I've always wondered how they did it.  What was the mechanism? Were they working together bouncing ideas off each other, throwing around phrases or dialogue while one wrote it all down or working separately, each adding different segments of the story?

I once wrote part of a novel with another writer in the form of letters between two characters who knew nothing of each other to start with. Each of us took one character and replied to the previous letter as suited the character and their temperament. It was a lot of fun being really stroppy and fascinating to see how the characters developed and changed as the story progressed and they drew nearer to meeting each other.  It was never finished as other writing commitments got in the way, but it might be interesting to come back to it one day.

from  Hamish McHaggis

  Working closely with an illustrator - as I have for some years with Sally J. Collins on the Hamish McHaggis books -  is again a different way of working.

It is a collaboration but, although I have written the storyline before Sally begins her pictures, writing a picture book is quite different than writing a novel and I find myself looking forward to seeing her ideas for the pictures
Linda Strachan - working on Hamish McHaggis
We find that the books grow much more organically as we work together, with images and text evolving and progressing in tandem.

 It's been a couple of years since the last one, but our latest book Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt is the 10th book in the series and it's good to be back working with Sally again.  The new book is currently being completed and will be published in the spring of 2012.

In the last month or two I have also been involved in a couple of other collaborative stories that have been just a bit of fun but I find that writing short pieces sparked off by other writers, is a great way to keep my 'imagination' muscles working!

The Bath Kidlitfest Big Blog Story was a collaboration of writers and bloggers, 20 in all, and worked a bit like the game you may have played as a child called 'Consequences '.

The ABBA contribution was written by four of us, Joan Lennon, Dianne Hofmeyr, Lucy Coats and myself  and we all added our own bit to the story, each writing about 250 words to make up the 14th chapter.  With a new chapter of the story being posted every couple of days it was a bit of a scramble to read the previous entries and find time to write our own part within the specified time.

It was interesting to follow the story and try to see where it might go next. It turned out to be a very strange tale indeed, and nothing was quite what you expected.  On the last day it was cleverly rounded off by Jeremy Strong who wrote the final chapter. You can find all the links for the entire story here if you scroll down to the end of the final chapter. Do have a look, it's all about the day the moon fell into the sea....

 The Society of Authors' short story tweetathon was another collaboration to highlight the BBC short story cuts campaign which protested against the BBC Radio 4 short story cuts.

Ian Rankin
There were 5 different stories composed of only 5 lines.
Starting with Ian Rankin, each Wednesday of the month one of five writers  - Ian Rankin, Sarah Waters, Simon Brett, Joanne Harris and Neil Gaiman - were invited to provide an opening line and this was posted on twitter with the hash tag followed by soatale.  All followers of the #soatale were invited to contribute the next line.  It was open to anyone who wanted to try and all manner of ideas and weird possibilities turned up.
The only criteria was that it had to be only as long as a tweet and include #soatale.
The curator for each story chose the winning line every hour until all five lines had been completed.  The final stories have  been recorded by actors Bill Nighy, Brenda Blethyn and Hugh Bonneville.

It was a great displacement activity, waiting to see what the next line would be and then trying to think where the story might go from there. It was good to see just how inventive people can be, in so few words!
You can find all six twitter tales here

Despite all these collaborations I have to admit that for most of the time writing is something that I want to disappear into - all on my own. I do like to have my characters to myself until I reach the end of their story when I can release them to find their own way in the world.

Are you a plotter or do you run with the story?

Do you want to work alone or enjoy collaboration?

Linda Strachan is the  author of the Hamish McHaggis series, YA novels Spider and Dead Boy Talking and writing handbook Writing for Children
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adele said...

A bit of friendly collaboration is fun! Ann Turnbull and Linda Newbery and I worked quite closely on the Historical House books but each book was individually written. I would hate input from someone else on a book, I think, unless it were something like you're doing, Linda with the letters. And even then...not sure I'd enjoy it too much. Writing is such a selfish activity...I do like to think of myself as THE BOSS! And I'm a planner. Not a chapter by chapter but a careful working out of most main things in advance. Not that the plan doesn't change as I write because it often does. Very interesting post!

Savita Kalhan said...

Very interesting post, Linda. Thanks. I fly solo, well, it's me and the characters so it's not completely solo. I don't plan either, I like to go where the story takes me. The last, and only, time I've collaborated, my friend ducked out and I ended up writing the whole story! But I'd happily try collaborating again...

Linda Strachan said...

Yes,I too like to think I am the boss, Adele, that I am in control. But I think my characters snigger about that behind my back!

Savita. The collaboration thing is like any partnership it is difficult to get it right and there has to be commitment from both sides.

Penny Dolan said...

Having been trapped for ages by a character that stomped "on stage" and was too good to remove, I've been wishing I was a planner.

But I think I'd need a planning partner to help me qwork it all through. I am definitely a dreamer-upper and a meanderer-about until the pattern suddenly reveals itself. Not the most time effective approach.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I'm an organic writer as well. But it takes longer to accomplish a great story because there are so many rewrites as you go along. I think it was E. L. Doctorow who compared writing to being in a car at night... 'you only see as far as the headlights go, but you make the journey anyway!' As far as collaboration goes, working with an illustrator has been a great experience as once the images are there I can drop some text! I don't think I'd be a good collaborator on a novel but doing the Bath Fest story was great... it freed me up to write fast with a playful, anything goes approach.

catdownunder said...

I definitely fly solo and I am not a plotter. I am still puzzled by the fact that I will write something into the first few pages with no idea at all as to why it is there. Sometime later the reason for it appears and surprises me. Maybe it is because I am not a proper author?

Miriam Halahmy said...

I'm definitely a discovery writer but often think I should knuckle down and do a bit more planning. Most of it seems to go on in my head and it doesn't work so well if I write the plans down. I couldn't collaborate on a novel. But I have worked with two different illustrators and loved it. However, I do like working to a commission with guidelines, however brief. Set me on a course and I run with the wind in my hair.

Linda Strachan said...

Penny, your approach obviously works, I've just finished Mouse and it was a great read!

Dianne, I love that quote about writing being like driving a car at night. It often feels to me like I can only see a short way ahead.

Hi Cat. I don't think that makes you less of a 'proper' author, being surprised by the story is part of the fun. We all find the best way and I think all the comments show this, although I do know there are some ardent plotters out there who plot the entire thing first - it's just not how I work!

Miriam - I also enjoy sometimes working to a commission with guidelines - it is a bit of a challenge and often having a deadline pushes me to get writing.

It is fascinating to see how people work, isn't it.

Ann Evans said...

Solo or collaboration, which is best? At the risk of sounding like Harry Hill in his TV Burp there's only one way to find out... Fight!
With the actual writing of books its solo for me, but I'm not averse to asking people close to me for ideas when I'm stuck. But recently I've been collaborating with a friend on a script which has been great fun.
Linda - I love your Tuscany shed!

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