Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of a few collaborative projects, of which working with Tom has been by far the longest and most rewarding. Usually creating is a solitary process, where you go away, make something up and return when it’s ready for sharing. Working with someone else, even if you do your bit alone, changes things.
Given what happened with today’s webcomic page, I thought it would be interesting to talk about that particular process as an illustration of how collaborating is different. (If you’ve not been following Personal Demons, a brief synopsis – a small girl called Salamandra is found in a gothic, decaying house by a witch (Annamarie Nightshade) and taken to the local orphanage, where she is unhappy. She runs away and meets another girl, and they get along. A demon is destroyed. Sal is taken back to the orphanage and fids she may have caused a death. Her new ‘friend’ becomes increasingly unpleasant. At this point she and Sal have just had a parting of the ways, and Sal has encountered something scary in the graveyard.)
When I wrote it, the point of today’s scene was just to convey that there is a bigger picture. I hadn’t entirely thought through the character implications, just suggested that someone in the graveyard scares Salamandra and she runs away. Now, this is the girl who has recently run off on her own into the night, and tackled a demon. She doesn’t scare easily. That could have created an inconsistency. Fortunately for me, Tom started from the assumption that what I’d written made sense, and went on to contemplate who, or what exactly in the graveyard would have the wherewithal to scare our young heroine. It won’t be obvious yet, I suspect, but as the plot develops, people will be able to look back and ponder. He’s made it work.
It’s not the first time one of us has thrown a random thing into the story mix, and the other has made sense of it. Usually it’s the other way round because Tom has a knack for coming up with strange and lovely things, and then passing them over to me to see if I can explain them and make them fit. When we started out, Tom had by far a wilder imagination than me, but I’ve always been good at filling in the gaps and creating plausible narratives. I’m happiest when I have his ideas to play with. Tom does write, it’s amazingly dense and full of potential, and looking at it takes me off down huge narrative arcs. We’ve argued about this (very gently) because I can see how everything I write for him stems from his original inspiration, but he finds the process more like my description of today’s comic page, with me taking his vision places he’d never thought of.
The work that emerges from collaboration is very different from anything either of us had done on our own. Not only is there the effect of someone else’s inspiration, but we feed back to each other, and that constant support changes the process too. I can see Tom’s influence in my other work now. I’ve become more confident about my writing, more able to lay down a wild thing and go ‘it’s like this folks’ and let the story unravel from there. I think the process has made him more confident, too.
Collaborating isn’t always this easy and doesn’t always work – as I’ve found on other occasions. It takes a lot of trust, but when you have two people on the same wavelength, wonderful things can be achieved. I’ve just finished editing a Jaime Samms / Sarah Masters collaboration – an excellent piece of work that both authors clearly enjoyed, which also got me thinking about this as a topic. That blending of ideas and perspectives can be so exciting, and a huge opportunity to learn. It’ll be interesting to see if it changes what either of them does independently.
If it’s a way of working you get the opportunity to explore, I do recommend it. For me, it’s been a totally life changing experience.