Writing really does work so much better with two heads. This we know because we have each written at least one book alone. And it was tough. Now we actually feel sorry for the solitary writer, plunking away on his/her computer, locked away in a study or basement. Or, in the case of the successful (meaning well-paid) author, an office outside the home. (Wait! Forget that last part; we definitely don’t feel sorry for anyone who is well paid for writing books!)
How do we do it? Timing is the biggie. We both lead busy lives, and making time to write can be difficult. But knowing that someone awaits the next chapter is rather like running in a relay. You just gotta get that baton to the next runner as quickly as you can, and it’s got to be a good hand-off. Or at least a presentable one. Only difference is that the baton will come back to you before you can catch your breath and down a gallon of Gatorade. Then the running starts all over again.
It helps that we have few rules. After the briefest of discussions where we bounce around a few ideas (maybe about something as simple as the location or something as important as the victim), one of us writes the first chapter, then e-mails it to the other. (Patty lives in Wisconsin; Roz lives in Texas.) The recipient adds, deletes and changes as she sees fit (a process we call “sparkling”) and then writes the next hunk and e-mails it back. And the process is repeated, interspersed with phone calls, e-mails and texts as needed.
Admittedly, with our method, consistency can prove as challenging as it is vital. Patty might visualize the kitchen where the murder took place because she wrote that particular chapter. But Roz might see it differently. Was the kitchen table described as round, or was that only imagined? When Roz introduces a main character who is clearly developed (in her mind) with curly red hair and chewed-off nails and then meets up with her in the next chapter sporting hair as straight as a ruler and a French manicure, she realizes she probably didn’t really describe her but rather just thought she did. The cure? We keep a running fact sheet as well as a chapter-by-chapter synopsis and also a time line and/or calendar. Add to those, upon completion of the book, many, many readings by many, many readers.
Then there is the matter of the plot, or in our case, the lack of a (predetermined) plot. Or conversely, too much plot. An outline just doesn’t work for us. It’s way too confining. If we can surprise each other, even if we are heading off in different directions, there is the tiniest hope the eventual reader will be surprised too. Usually we send a chapter to our partner with no idea what will follow the page-turner that ended it. Painting each other into a corner is what we do best, and the reward is seeing how we get out.
Of course, it all has to come together in the end. And that’s the really fun part. We meet twice a year and read our manuscript aloud, each taking a page at a time. By this stage in the process, our words are so closely meshed together it’s difficult even for us to tell who wrote what. (But Patty claims Roz wrote the swear words and such.)
Since we are now on our third book in The Val & Kit Mystery Series, our heroines are real people to us, best friends with a shared love of Starbucks yet distinctly different personalities. Kinda like us, in fact. The brave Kit breaks rules when they get in her way, in spite of the tender-hearted Val’s protests. Best of all, there are now four of us, not two, on this thrilling journey.