Two years ago I wrote a blog about co-writing a short story with Eden Baylee for R B Wood’s Word Count Podcast. Eden was 3,330 miles away. She started it, I developed her opening, she wrote a complication for me, and I wrote the conclusion. The end product worked well but the writing experience was interesting in that we each knew that we’d have to relinquish control over the characters and maybe find that when they were handed back they might be totally different from how we’d imagined they’d be.
In fact, it was a satisfying experiment and there were no obvious clashes between our relative styles and the way the whole thing evolved.
But we’ve done it again, and this time the experience was very different. The previous effort was written in the third person (a narrative position we shared). This time, the story takes the form of an exchange of emails between Laura and Ross, who’ve spent an illicit weekend together. That means Eden and I were writing something with two totally separate first person narratives and each of the characters was at the mercy of the other. As Ross, I could start by saying what I liked but, until I heard Laura’s response to it, I had no idea what direction I’d be able to take. It was, of course, the same for Eden as Laura. And although it’s assumed that a first person narrator can offer a fuller, deeper insight into his/her psyche, it’s complicated when another person’s subjective opinion of him/her is thrown into the mix. Paradoxically, the added first person brings more authenticity to each character.
If you’d like to see the full text, it’s on Eden’s website. And I recommend experiments like this. As well as setting interesting challenges which need to be met to make any progress, it causes one to look more closely at how the whole writing business works, to think more about the thin line between narrative control and chaos. It also illustrates something I’ve said before: writing is like acting. To create a legitimate character, we have to share his/her space, sense his/her reactions to things and act (write) accordingly.
If you have done any of this sort of thing, I’d love to hear how you found it.