How do two people write one story? Philippa “Pip” Ballantine and Tee Morris have not only managed to write a novel together, but they’ve even successfully done it three times in their outrageously fun steampunk-spy series, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
As we draw ever closer to their appearance at this year’s James River Writers Conference, this dynamic duo has collaborated yet again to share with our members how they write as a team.
Collaboration is nothing new and it seems to be a trend with new authors and writing groups. There are teams like Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, or the numerous pairing-up’s that Baen Books is known for that make collaborations look like a great way to create a bestselling epic. It’s also easy, right? You take the idea, split up or divvy the work, and then at the end — ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom — you have a manuscript, right?
Not by a longshot.
When authors collaborate, it’s different from team to team. What is essential in a successful collaboration is to tell a story—the same story—while remaining true to your own style. We both have unique writing styles, but we also have writing styles that are compatible with one another. It is that compatibility that led us to working together, and yeah, probably getting married.
No, we’re not suggesting you marry your writing partner or partners. We just got lucky that way.
But we digress…
Our collaboration began with one of us looking to launch a podcast-for-pay idea while the other wanted to promote a series idea. The compatibility of both ideas led to a rollicking steampunk adventure featuring archivist Wellington Books and pistol-packing agent Eliza D. Braun. We were casually putting this idea together when our agent, Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary, told us there an interest in our “new steampunk project” announced on our blogs. We then set out to write the novel the same way we were planning to write and produce the podcast script —from either Wellington’s or Eliza’s point-of-view.
With our idea fleshed out, the collaboration started immediately with talking through plot developments and twists. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your partner about everything you want to pull. We surprise one another constantly with either one-liner gems or revelations that we will go deeper into detail during the editorial phase. It is during the edits, when we smooth out our distinctive styles by editing one another’s chapters, that trust comes into play. We trust one another implicitly. We know that some things we write will make the cut, some will be removed, and some may be reimagined, provided we can keep the story moving and the plot solid.
Often times, you will hear about authors talk about the importance of trust in collaboration, but open communications trumps trust every time. What do we mean by that? 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. What would happen if either one of us were “done” with either the series, or the collaborative process. No, we didn’t like talking about it; but it was important. In fact, it was imperative that we planned for that, just in case our writing relationship took a wrong turn somewhere.
Thankfully, after five years, we are still going strong.
The only time we find ourselves at odds with one another is when it comes to writing Interludes, the segments of our novels that are told from a variety of characters’ points-of-view. We both love writing for the Maestro and Sophia del Morte, and in Book Three we even have opportunities to get into Nikola Tesla’s head, so there were a few rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock and heated arguments over who was writing which scenes. Apart from that, we always enjoy working together on the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. We are each other’s best sounding board for ideas and for character developments. It does not mean we will lock horns over the details of a setting or of a situation. We never forget that this is a collaboration, so it is our responsibility to find out the best ways of making plot developments work. That trust we share in real life only grows stronger, and together we figure out how to make our work — both shared bylines and solo — stronger for our audiences. It’s a very special relationship we have, and we don’t take it for granted. Not for a second.
There are plenty of benefits we’ve found in the collaboration process, but it’s 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. It’s 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.
If you’d like to learn more about the writing duo of Pip and Tee, then don’t miss your chance to meet them and our other fantastic speakers at the 2013 James River Writers Conference.
Join us October 19-20 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center to pitch your project, improve your craft, and meet fellow writers. Speakers will also include award-winning book designer and author Chip Kidd, National Book Award-winner Kathryn Erskine, best-selling and award-winning author Christopher McDougall, award-winning authors Cece Bell, Lydia Netzer, and Megan Mayhew Bergman, Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, founders of Pitchapalooza, and agents April Eberhardt, Deborah Grosvenor, Beth Phelan, Victoria Skurnick, and Paige Wheeler.