And Yes, We Still Love Each Other: The Art of Collaborating with Your Wife

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When authors collaborate, its different from team to team. What is essential in a successful collaboration is to tell a storythe same storywhile remaining true to your own style. This tends to be the biggest stumbling block for authors who share a byline. When a book is co-written, there shouldn’t be a jump in styles as that can be jarring and yank a reader out of the story. Then comes the additional challenge of a reader preferring one author’s voice over another. Favoritism can affect the way a reader takes in the story you’re both trying to tell.

So you still think sharing that idea with a friend and splitting the work on a manuscript will be easy, right?

Not by a longshot.

392090_10150546573866348_634026347_11217789_283965296_nNow marry your co-author.

Welcome to my world.

Both Pip and I have our own way of writing, but there are similarities and compatibilities that led us to working together (and yeah, probably getting married). That definitely affected our decision to work together, but we also needed to find out what story we wanted to tell together. That idea, we discovered, would be a rollicking steampunk adventure featuring archivist Wellington Books and pistol-packing agent Eliza D. Braun. With an idea now taking shape, we started talking through plot developments and twists, bouncing wild situations back and forth that we knew needed to be part of this story we were going to write together. All this provided the foundation of open communications Pip and I shared when we were in different hemispheres, and when we are in the same living room.

What do we mean by open communications? Both of us have survived collaborations gone wrong, both of them involving a breakdown in the communications between our partners. While one of these instances was resolved more amicably than the other, we now understand the importance of planning for the worst-case scenario which is why we did. It’s important, if not imperative, that you plan for what to do if you or your partner lose interest, just in case the writing relationship takes a wrong turn somewhere.

Thankfully, after six years, we are still going strong.

However, open communications is no obligation to tell your partner everything you want to throw at your shared characters and worlds. This process is supposed to be fun after all, right? Pip and I DSC_0008continue to surprise one another constantly with either one-liner gems or revelations that we will delve deeper into during the editorial phase. While it may feel like this collaboration is becoming a game of one-upmanship, your responsibility as a collaborator is to make certain your surprises are justified. You need a good reason for doing what you do, not just because you think this idea is cool.

The only time we have ever found ourselves at odds with one another is when it comes to writing Interludes, those segments of the Ministry novels that are told from a variety of characterspoints-of-view. We both love writing for the Maestro and Sophia del Morte, and in Dawn’s Early Light we even found an opportunity to get into Nikola Teslas head. Throughout rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock and heated arguments over who was writing which scenes with Sophia, Pip and I never forgot that the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a shared world, and it is our responsibility — to our fans and to our characters — to come up with the best resolutions of making plot developments work.

Usually, that resolution invokes me with “You’re right, Pip…” and then I do what I want anyway. It’s a very special relationship we have. Especially when it comes to the editing phase.

There are plenty of benefits Pip and I have found in the collaboration process, but its making one another laugh, smile, and even shudder at what we come up with that have their own rewards. Maybe we have a subversive competitive streak between us, but we do try to ramp up the tension for both Eliza and Wellington. Whenever one of us completes a chapter, we genuinely look forward to what surprises await us. Its that ability to bounce ideas back and forth, either in pre-production or during the editorial process, that makes writing the books fun for us, and hopefully for others when they read them.

Collaboration, when done right, makes the writing process less solitary.

 

Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

dawnsearlylightTee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

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6 comments to And Yes, We Still Love Each Other: The Art of Collaborating with Your Wife

  • Yep, this resonates. I write sci-fi and fantasy romance under D.J. Davis. The J in that is my wife and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I’m writing a work, I’m constantly bouncing ideas off her, trying to see what works. When I have a novel finished, I read it out loud to her, so that we can both figure out what works and what needs fixed and I take notes. I go back in and rework things, and then read it out loud again. We analyze it all and if there’s still things that don’t work, I fix them. She’s a writer as well, though her work isn’t finished yet (I keep telling her it’s good and we should just get it done together). I’ve been writing for 29 years, trying to better myself, ever since a teacher told me I should become a writer. And with my wife, I’m twice as good as I used to be. And hey, going on 9 years here in May! And we’ll have a sci-fi romance novella out soon!

  • The two of you are incredibly fortunate to have each other and to have found a working relationship that works so well in the context of your personal relationship. It’s incredibly rare, and it couldn’t have happened to better people.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I’m definitely impressed that you guys can pull this off. My room-mate and I once did a short, silly collaboration in college and it *only* worked because a) it was humor, and b) it was fanfic, so *not* taking it seriously was largely the point (and I did have to keep reminding myself of this). We posted it up under a single pen-name and found it hilarious that no one commented on what clearly had two different writing styles and a plot that kept getting yanked back and forth between two different agendas (we disagreed about who was the primary romantic interest).

    However, humor is really not my forte, and I suspect I would have a very hard time seriously collaborating with anyone. My husband and I have been batting around a story idea for quite some time. However, I cringe to think of actually trying to write it together. We’re both extremely opinionated and have pretty different directions we’d be focused on pursuing with this particular story. And I know that I, at least, would have a pretty nasty death-grip when it came time to surrender any portion of creative control. But, I can definitely see the one-upmanship aspect of collaborating with a spouse!

  • That is really cool. It’s something I would love to do with my husband at some point, since we already act as sounding boards for each other’s work. Thank you for sharing!

  • Ken

    Hi there Tee. Maybe this got addressed in a previous post, but how do the two of you go about laying down the outline (This is, of course, assuming that you ~do~ outline) of your book? Do you both outline the overall book, then outline the arcs for your respective characters and work that in? I can’t imagine completely pantsing a collaborative work like yours and Pip’s. Thanks for sharing these bits of your writing life.

  • I enjoyed reading this. JC and I are working on our 13th Noble Dead novel. On our team, I’m the one who says, “Yes, you’re right,” and then I go and do exactly what I think is best :)

    One thing we do to head off any unpleasant surprises for each other–regarding plot–is to create a pretty extensive outline before we start drafting. Over the years, these have become progressively more extensive.