I had a question from a writer friend about collaboration and how my writing partner, the fantastic Mr. Brendon Udy, and I “make it work.” My answer at the time was simple, we’re friends. But in reality it’s so much more complicated than that.
Writing is traditionally a game of solitaire. Just a person, a pen (or keyboard), and maybe some alcohol, cigarettes, Diet Coke and M&M’s, or insert other vice here. But once in a while, two heads can be better than one. Other times it helps just to have someone else to share the pain. Most of the time this is what it feels like:
I think I’ll take you back to the beginning of our special relationship so you can fully understand where we come from. Brendon and I met at a screenwriting conference in LA where we were both pitching our baby scripts. Being LA outsiders (I’m in San Diego, which might as well be New Zealand, and he’s actually in New Zealand) it was easy to find other outsiders to hang with apart from the in-crowd. We’re both relatively good pitchers and had a fair number of bites, but nothing serious. I loved the concept of his script and we agreed to keep in touch. It wasn’t until a few months later and a lot of script trading that Brendon asked me to help him on an outline for a contest with a female protagonist. He has amazing, high-concept ideas and I’ve got good follow-through. After success with the outline (which eventually became our screenplay Transfer) we agreed to help each other with a couple scripts we were stuck on. That turned into a some contest submissions, a pilot, a few more feature scripts and the rest is collaboration history.
Why it works: We both have our strengths and weaknesses. He’s better at action, I’m better at dialogue. He has great ideas, I’m able to run with them. Our styles complement each other and even when we work on the same sections of script, you can’t tell it was done by two different people. But best of all, we don’t get butt-hurt. This is the single most important element to a good writing partnership, the ability to not get butt-hurt when your idea or dialogue or character gets changed or vetoed. To be able to recognize when someone can do something better than you and to get out of their way. This is key! And most writers are really bad at it. It’s hard to kill your own babies; it’s nigh impossible to let someone else assassinate them. But it’s necessary if you want to be a successful collaborator.
And let’s face it, it’s good practice for when the people who buy your work gut it right in front of you like a Baratheon bastard.
So if you want to collaborate, first you must find someone whose work you respect and admire. Then make a conscious effort to work WITH them, which means knowing when to tell them like it is, when to get out of their way, and when to use both your powers to break the story.
Wishing you a long and fruitful partnership!