Picking Up Someone Else’s Threads

Post by Cheryl Mahoney

I shared a few weeks ago about my experience writing Chapter Two of Pesto, Pirouettes and Potions, a collaborative novel with three other authors.  We’re writing it round-robin style, each writing a chapter then passing it on to the next person, and my second turn came around again recently.

I had a lot of fun reading through the five chapters we had so far, and then writing up Chapter Six.  I got into a nice flow of conversation between the characters, getting to know their dynamics a little more.  I had the chance to play with Charlie and Lola, our two heroines, and their friends Nathan, who dances in the ballet with Charlie, and Mario, Lola’s roommate.  Mario is a flirt who thinks Charlie is cute, Nathan likes to tease straight guys who assume he’s gay (he isn’t), Charlie is totally freaking out over her crush on Lola, and Lola is trying to convince herself not to crush on Charlie–so it’s awkward all around and it was so much fun to write.

This was the first chapter I wrote picking up after other people wrote theirs – I wrote Chapter Two previously, but since it was introducing Charlie (while Chapter One introduced Lola) it was pretty independent.  I really enjoyed being able to riff from things other people had written–like continuing Charlie’s tic of saying “oh goddess,” or building from a previous-chapter moment when Charlie introduced her dog.  I probably wouldn’t have thought of either element, so I loved springing off of the ideas to continue building.

My last post mentioned setting the stage for things to play out louder, possibly in chapters written by others.  For Chapter Six, I got to see the opposite side of it, continuing to build something other people started.  It’s awesome to get such great ideas to play with.

Here’s an excerpt that shows a couple ideas someone else created continuing to grow in my chapter!

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Was this whole business, stalking the Pilates classes, showing up at brunch, going too far?  Was Charlie building way too much on one charged exercise class, and one not-quite-a-date?

But it had been such a good sort of date.  It had been a long time since she’d felt a connection like that.  And Sammy had liked Lola—who had understood his name.  Charlie only introduced him as Samwise when she wanted to see if someone would catch the reference, pick up the semi-secret code she was sending out.  And Lola hadn’t just asked about Lord of the Rings, she had asked Sammy if he was a Hobbit.  So adorable.

Oh goddess, she had it bad.

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We Meet Again

Blog Post by Karen Blakely

It’s interesting, to have four authors writing a story about two main characters. Two writers are sharing Lola, the chef, and two of us are sharing Charlie, the ballerina. I like Charlie. Among other things, she’s tough, graceful, vegan, into herbal remedies – and she’s lonely.

Because I need to know my character before I start writing, I touched base with my Charlie compatriot a couple times. We decided on a few external features and some of the more critical internal truths for Charlie. That’s one of my favorite things; finding out who my character really is and understanding how they’re going to react to the world around them.

Charlie is intrigued by Lola. Maybe nothing would have come of their first brief encounter, but they end up running into each other the next morning. That was my job in Chapter Four. To get them back together and into a Pilates class.

Continue reading “We Meet Again”

Spinning Threads I Might Not Finish

Four of our Stonehenge Circle Writers—Karen Blakely, R. A. Gates, Kelly Haworth and Cheryl Mahoney—are collaborating to write a new novel: Pesto, Pirouettes and Potions.  It’s unusual for this many authors to work together on one continuous story, so they’ve decided to blog throughout the drafting, to give you some glimpses into the process.

Blog post by Cheryl Mahoney

Last week R. A. Gates told you about writing Chapter One of the story, and introducing Lola.  I was slated to write second, so I dove into writing Chapter Two of the story.  My main task was introducing Charlie, our second lead character.  Charlie must have wanted to share her story, because the scenes flowed pretty well.  We also did more outlining for this story than I usually do for my own, so I was working with a paragraph of notes on what we decided to include for this chapter.  That may have made things easier, because the roadmap was very clearly laid out.

Since this was Charlie’s first chapter, it was mostly about setting up her character and her life.  I started with the bows at the end of a ballet performance—which sent me down a rabbit hole of research on modern ballet and the levels for dancers within a company!  I started inventing characters to form a community around Charlie, both in her dance company and in her neighborhood, which we had decided is very close-knit.  Even though I was creating characters for Charlie to know, I was also trying to hit the point that she’s lonely right now; her grandparents, who raised her, died a few months previously, and she’s also alone romantically.

The funny part about writing this as a collaboration at this point was realizing that I was setting up threads and ideas that I (or at least, I alone) wouldn’t be the one to write the results for.  For example, I wrote a bit where Charlie is hoping to get the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker this year, but someone else may be writing the scene that reveals whether she gets it or not.  With that in mind, I added more notes than usual, detailing what I was trying to set-up and how it might pay-off.  We may not follow all of those ideas, but at least that way it’s noted and can be considered by my fellow writers as they write forward.

It also was interesting to have more immediate feedback for my writing than usual, as I bounced ideas I was having off of my partner writers in almost-real time as I wrote.  I have people I talk to about my writing, but it’s usually not quite so in the moment.

I thought I’d share an excerpt from Chapter Two.  This is my favorite bit, as Charlie struggles to fall asleep and her dog Sammy comes to join her.

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After Charlie’s mind went around the same circles two or three times, and she tried every possible position at least once, she gave up and turned the light back on.  Some nights were just going to be restless and blue, and there was no use fighting it.

She reached down to the bottom shelf of her bedside table and came up with her worn old paperback of The Two Towers.  She opened at random, landing near the beginning of Chapter Four.  She knew the story backwards and forwards, so she started reading where she was.

Only a few pages in, she heard a thump as the mattress shifted, and then Sammy’s cold nose was pressing against her shoulder.

Charlie rolled over to rub Sammy’s favorite spot between his ears.  “At least I have you, right, Samwise?  That was enough for Frodo.”  He’d had an entire Fellowship, but Sam was really the only one he’d needed, to get all the way through Mordor.

Sammy snuffled, turned around twice, and curled up against her.  Charlie went back to her book, the little terrier a warm lump at the small of her back, and read about Merry, Pippin and Treebeard until she fell asleep.

Co-Writing Adventure

Blog post by R. A. Gates

Anyone who thinks that writing is a lonely pursuit has never been to a writer’s critique group. I’ve come to realize that it takes a village to write a book. At least a good one. And then there are the writing conventions and workshops writers attend to hone their craft. I’ve met some wonderful writers and friends through these avenues. And lucky writers like me get to co-write a book with some exceptional writers.

The first project I co-wrote with four other writers was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, The Servants and the Beast. In composing that novella, each writer had a section they were in charge of. We all read everything over, made suggestions and edit recommendations but the writer in charge of that section had the final say.

Currently, four of the five writers of that book are venturing on a new project. This time instead of each writer being in charge of certain sections, we are alternating chapters. I believe this project will be more challenging than the first because our writing styles need to mesh more than before. We all have to be more in synch with how the plot plays out and how each character develops.

We spent time last September creating the main character, Lola, in a writing exercise. Then we plotted out the story so we have a nice outline of what is supposed to happen in each chapter. I got the privilege of starting us off by writing chapter one. The chapter that is responsible for hooking the reader and getting the ball rolling. The chapter that introduces the reader to the main character and her situation.

No pressure.

I did my best to show who Lola was without being info-dumpy or having her look into a mirror and perfectly describe her appearance. It’s a lot harder than you think. Then when I had a decent beginning to our story, I sent of the file to the next writer to complete chapter two. It will be passed along round-robin style until the last few chapters which we will write together.

We’re aren’t sure how well this will work or if we will actually publish the story when it’s completed, but the experience so far is a lot of fun. Having four creative minds come together to plot out a story was amusing. Hopefully we can pull it off.

This is the first  in a new series of blog posts; each of the co-writers of this new novel will be sharing their experience as the drafting continues.