Co-Writing a Book by Michael J. Tucker & Tom Wood
There is plenty of good, practical advice out there for two authors interested in co-writing a book or short story — everything from constant communication to a shared vision for the project, from outlining the novel to who writes what, from being open to criticism to trusting each other.
All excellent points, but from our experience, a “dynamic duo” approach to our 2020 crime drama A Night on the Town was easy compared to writing a chain story with seven other authors.
A little background:
We are members of the Harpeth River Writers critique group that in 2019 published the water-themed anthology WORDS ON WATER. The final story in the collection of short fiction and poetry, The Many Names of Jillyn, was a collaborative effort that turned out better than any of us imagined. All we knew at the beginning was the set-up, a high school reunion by the Harpeth River where a body was found. We established a writing order, where each of us would add a character at the reunion based on what was previously written. And like the meandering flow of the Harpeth River, we had no idea where the story would take us or how it might end.
Fast-forward to September 2019 and the genesis of A Night on the Town, a 2020 e-book which turned out so well that we eventually turned it into a feature-length screenplay. That effort was rewarded as a finalist in several screenwriting competitions.
The e-book story pitted Deacon/Deke, a well-liked insurance executive with a dark secret, against homeless addict Arnold in a fateful rideshare showdown with a detective pursuing both men. For the screenplay, characters were added and the story expanded— even a new ending was written.
Our writing process was pretty simple — each of us came up with a different character and we passed the story back and forth to see where it would take us. Will that approach work for you? Maybe, maybe not. Will it encourage you to consider a collaborative project? Hopefully.
Tom: I got the initial idea from a Metro Nashville police report on a gang robbing one rideshare driver, then using that driver’s cellphone to call another rideshare driver and rob him. They were quickly caught, but it sparked a story idea.
How would the robber avoid being caught and what if the driver had the same idea — of robbing his passenger. I knew it was a good idea but my rideshare knowledge is zero while Mike has experience as a rideshare driver. Because of our critique group experience of writing and editing together, it seemed like an easy choice to approach Mike with the idea. We gave each other a lot of leeway and took a ‘pantser’ approach rather than ‘plotter’ to see where the story would go.
Mike: We agreed on the basic plot, a rideshare passenger was going to rob the driver … while the driver was planning to rob the passenger. From there we developed our own characters and the details followed. I wrote the voice of Arnold, but Tom started the process with writing the voice of Deke. He wrote the opening scenes, about 1,500 words. I then took a copy of his manuscript and inserted Arnold into appropriate scene splits. Tom and I have been in the same critique group for a decade, so we are used to giving each other feedback and open to each other’s suggestions for changes.
Tom: Yeah, Mike deserves the credit for the story’s alternating, first-person format. He took my idea for the story and embraced as his own. After I sent Mike the opening section, I assumed he would write a Chapter 2 of similar length and send it back to me to write Chapter 3. That’s the standard approach, right? But Mike’s finger-snapping insertion of Arnold’s sad story into Deke’s narrative was nothing short of brilliant — and just what the story needed. It was a format we stuck with, and it made the story click.
Mike: Writing the detective into the story was a little different. We both wrote those scenes. It was really a cooperative process.
Tom: The initial story focused on the Arnold and Deke characters only. But it seemed like a police presence was needed to round out the short story and give it that needed framework. For the screenplay, the detective’s story was elevated to the same level as Deke and Arnold.
Mike: The editing and rewriting process also went smooth. As members of the Harpeth River Writers, we have a long history of accepting each other’s feedback. I can’t think of a time during the writing of A Night on the Town where we didn’t arrive at a mutual agreement.
Tom: I have spent a career in the newspaper business, having stories edited and rewritten and doing the same with other writers’ stories. Any constructive criticism that can make my story better and prevent an error getting into print is great. Mike’s the same way and while we had differing views on certain aspects, we were easily able to solve any issues.
The co-writing experience isn’t for everyone, but it worked for us. Maybe it will for you also.
Michael J. Tucker Bio: Michael J. Tucker grew up in the cold northern climate of Pittsburgh, PA, and an only child, he was often trapped indoors and left to his own devices, where he would create space ships out of cardboard boxes, convert his mother’s ironing board into a horse and put on his Sunday suit and tie and his father’s fedora and become a newspaper reporter or police detective. This experience left him with an unlimited imagination and the ability to write electrifying short stories and novels.
His Published Short Stories Available on Amazon are: Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon, The New Neighbor, The Hemingway Notes, The King’s Man, and the Amazon best selling short story series, Katie Savage, and The Gardner Painting: A Katie Savage Story.
In addition to his poetry collection, Your Voice Spoke To My Ear, his work also appears in the Civil War Anthology, Filtered Through Time, and By Blood or By Marriage, a Harpeth River Writers Anthology.
Reviewers of Mike’s novels have compared his writing to: Thomas Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
Albert Beckus, Professor Emeritus of Literature at Austin Peay University recently wrote of his novels: “They move naturalistically in the American literary tradition of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, but with a twist…as found in The Great Gatsby.”
Tom Wood Bio: A Nashville-based journalist, author and screenwriter, Tom’s goals are to inform, inspire and entertain. His first book, VENDETTA STONE, is a fictional true-crime thriller and he is a member of the Harpeth River Writers which published the WORDS ON WATER anthology in 2019, a Silver Falchion finalist. Two film adaptations, VENDETTA STONE and DEATH TAKES A HOLLIDAY, were Nashville Film Festival screenplay contest semifinalists in 2015 and 2016, respectively. His co-authored e-book A NIGHT ON THE TOWN, also adapted into a feature-length screenplay, was a finalist in the 2020 Peachtree Village International Film Festival and a semifinalist in the Southeastern International Film Festival. DEATH TAKES A HOLLIDAY was s a 2020 finalist in the WeScreenplay Shorts contest.