Working with a Co-Writer Works!

By K.C. Cowan


When I tell people that I have a co-writer for our Y/A fantasy series, their reaction is usually: “Really? How does that work?”

My answer: Very well!

Sara and I have been friends since high school. She began our first book when we were in college, and we have been collaborators ever since as we finished the first, second and are currently working on the third in our series about Princess Irene, Nan and Kay.

Interestingly, our first book was written with little or no “collaboration.” We lived in separate cities then, so we seldom got together to discuss where the plot was going or, more importantly, how it would end! It was just writing for the fun of it, and telling a story that included all our friends who we “cast” as characters in the book. (Some of whom might actually someday forgive us!)

In fact, we took great delight in leaving a chapter in a bit of a cliff-hanger, just so we could see what the other person would do with it! We introduced and killed off characters with abandon, and simply had a good time writing the story. Of course, when I decided to rewrite the book to try to get it published, there was a lot of work to do! Especially because, we had not even finished the story when we stopped writing in 1982.  So, in 2012, we decided to complete it and each wrote a chapter or two to bring the story to a conclusion.

Sara wrote such a beautiful ending, but in a way that kept the final issue a mystery.  Three weeks later, I couldn’t stand it – I had to know what happened!  I wrote chapter two of the second book, sent it to Sara and we were off and running with the continuation of Irene, Nan and Kay’s adventures.

By now, Sara and I lived in the same area, so we got together a few times a month to discuss where the book was heading. Sara’s great strength as a co-writer is plot. She comes up with the best ideas! So many of each book’s plot twists and adventures come from Sara. Not that every idea works…she has pitched a few ideas that I was skeptical about and sometimes rejected. But overall, Sara brings a wonderful imagination to plot points that help move the book along. I really depend on her talent in this area! She is also strong when it comes to descriptions of place.

My strength is in dialogue. Having been a news reporter for most of my career, I know a good “sound-bite” when I hear it! That helps make my dialogue crisp and direct. I also think I “hear” how the characters speak so clearly, that I just know how they’re going to respond in any given scene. I love starting a chapter, knowing that I need to advance the plot to a certain point and just diving in. I might call myself a “visual” writer, because a scene plays out in my head and I just write what I see. Later, I edit and trim to get it as tight as I can.

Do we always agree? No! One time Sara killed off a character rather central to the plot. I screamed when I read it, because we had not discussed this at all, and I completely freaked out! “How can you do this? Our readers will hate us!”

But Sara had an idea of where the story was going to go, and once she shared that with me, it was fine and I had a good time “solving” the problem she dumped in my lap!

The other thing I like about having a co-writer is you immediately get feedback on what you’ve done. If you don’t belong to a writers’ group, writing can be such a solitary job, and being able to send a chapter and have Sara say that she liked this one part, or point out a continuity problem is so helpful!  It’s like having a co-writer and editor in one.

It also helps to have the support of another friend/writer when coming up with ideas. When we were batting around ideas for book four, Sara threw out an idea and immediately began to discount it as "oh, probably not a good idea." But I thought it was marvelous and immediately said we should do it!

And finally, while I’m waiting for Sara to write her chapter, the pressure is off me for a while. I can work on other projects, or begin thinking about ways I might structure a scene for a future plot point we’ve agreed on.

I’m sure co-writing wouldn’t work for everyone, but Sara and I love it!