Please welcome S.K. Dunstall to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Linesman was published on June 30th by Ace. You may read an interview with Sherylyn and Karen here.
Writing a book together
The most common question we get as writers isn’t about our books at all. It’s “How do you write a book together?”
Some co-writers ‘share’ the writing equally. The story might have two protagonists, and each writes one protagonist’s story. We do that sometimes too, but it’s not our main method of writing. For us, sharing the workload doesn’t mean we each do half of everything. We have our own strengths.
We didn’t always write together. We began by critiquing each other’s stories. We were harsh critics—because we wanted the other’s stories to be good. Somewhere along the way we started editing each other’s work. After a while we realised that the stories we worked on together like this were better than the ones we worked on alone.
So we started experimenting with different ways of writing together. We’re still experimenting, but we’ve settled into the following method for our most successful stories. This is what we used for Linesman, and it’s what we’ll use for other stories in the Linesman universe.
For us, it is important we keep the same voice throughout the story. This means one main writer for the first draft. For the Linesman series, it is Karen.
We discuss the story as Karen writes it. Over breakfast, over dinner, in the car. It absorbs our life. Most of this talking is backstory, not plot. If we over-talk the plot before we write it, it stops us dead.
First drafts are ugly. Stories aren’t written, they’re rewritten. If a writer—even a published writer—shows you their first draft, your reaction is unlikely to be, “Wow, this is a great story.” It’s more likely to be, “Hmm, how do I tell them this story needs work?”
When the first draft is done, the second writer starts fixing things. We still talk all the time about what works and what doesn’t.
Once that’s done, we have a working story.
Then we start the rewrites.
This involves multiple rereads, multiple rewrites and a lot more discussion. Whole sections of the book are rewritten, story lines added, or even taken out. If we can’t agree, we talk until we get something we both agree on. Everything has to blend together as seamlessly as possible.
Usually one writer follows along behind the other, editing the other’s rewrite.
Finally, we have a story we’re happy with.
But it doesn’t finish there. That’s just the story. Next job is to clean up the writing.
The second writer takes over the bulk of the work. For the Linesman series, this is Sherylyn. Cleaning up the prose, getting rid of pet phrases, eliminating unnecessary words. Reading and rereading the text until she can almost quote paragraphs in bulk.
Once we think the book is clean we read the whole thing aloud. We pick up lots more errors doing this.
It’s intense, even claustrophobic sometimes, and we could only do it with each other.
We’re sisters, but we’re also good friends, and we’ve been sharing stories all our life.
More, if one of us doesn’t like something we know to talk it out because we trust the other’s instincts. Eventually we’ll arrive at a solution that suits us both.
We’re honest about what works and what doesn’t.
We like the same type of writing. If we didn’t both love science fiction and fantasy we wouldn’t be writing together. If we didn’t both like the same types of characters in a story we wouldn’t be writing together. You have to be able to read the other person’s writing and think it’s not just good, but great. You have to be able to reread it dozens of times and still think that.
You still get book fatigue, where you’ve been working on a book so long you get tired of it, and then you think ‘this story stinks’. Most writers do, but that’s part of writing. You get over that.
So given it sounds like a lot of work, why do we do it?
Writing is something most people do on their own. You work on your novel for months, sometimes years. If you’re lucky, you have someone close who understands and supports you, but for many you’re doing it alone. When you’re co-writing you have someone as enthusiastic about the novel as you.
It doesn’t halve the work, but it helps cut the stress. You can’t control life. You can’t control deadlines. Work and family get in the way of writing. You will get stressed. Luckily for us we have our meltdowns at different times. Karen usually stresses early in the book, when the whole thing looks huge and undoable. Sherylyn stresses as the deadline looms. We support each other and help the other through.
Most of all, we enjoy writing together. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ace, June 30, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series.
The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…
Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.
Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.
The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.
S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who have been telling stories—and sharing them with each other—all their lives. Around five years ago, they realised the stories they worked on together were much better than the stories they worked on alone. A co-writing partnership was born.