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Ben Bova and Doug Beason Answer: What’s It Like Collaborating on a Novel?

Co-writing a novel with a collaborator is WAY easier than writing an entire novel by yourself…right? Ben Bova and Doug Beason, co-authors of Space Station Down, may disagree. Check out their take on writing a book together below!


By Ben Bova and Doug Beason

With the publication of Space Station Down, we’re often asked how one collaborates on a novel, and specifically how we collaborate. The answer of course is “exquisitely.”

But deeper than that, there are just as many ways to collaborate as there are to write a piece of fiction – literally thousands.

Most people think that collaborating with another person takes only 50% of the effort in writing your own, solo work; after all, you only have to do half the work, right? But in reality, it’s much harder and is closer to 200% harder.

The reason is that when writing with someone else, no matter how close you may be, there are a near-infinite number of ways a plot can turn, a character can change or a scene can develop. As such, it’s incredibly important that you both see eye to eye on every detail. You both must have a vision for what the novel is about. That vision may change, and the direction of the novel may vary, but starting out, you should both agree on where the novel will go.

One way is for the collaborators to outline in detail what happens, including the main characters, the major plot points, and the changes the characters undergo. When that general understanding of the novel occurs, then one person writes a rough draft, while the second person edits and rewrites as they wish. Then the novel is bounced back and forth between the collaborators until both writers are satisfied and a finished product results.

Another way to collaborate is for the writers to divide up the book into sections or chapters, based on an outline. Each person is responsible for writing those assigned parts, and when they are both finished, one person goes through the novel and changes what they wish; that person then gives the changed novel to the other person who does the same thing. The book is then bounced back and forth until both collaborators are satisfied.

Still another way is for each collaborator to be assigned a character, a period in time or even a locale – each having the responsibility of writing their parts. In all cases, when the pieces are put together to produce that first draft of a novel, then someone has to trudge through that draft and make changes; the second person goes through afterwards.

But even with these different ways of collaborating there may be times when issues arise and the writers cannot come to a consensus. This could be about the plot, the characters or even the outcome. In that case, one collaborator should have the duty of breaking any stalemates that occur. If the impasse is not broken, then the novel may never be published, just because the writers have dug in their heels and have refused to compromise.

The point of collaborating is for the finished product to be a much better novel than just a sum of the parts – written with “one voice” that may be indistinguishable from the individual writers.

That’s the beauty of collaborating on a novel – creating a finished product that is incredibly better than one person may produce, as it uses the strengths of each individual writer.

And it can succeed – if the writers can put their egos out of the way and always push for the best.

What’s your best guess on how we collaborated on Space Station Down? Whichever way you guess, for us, we had an incredibly fun time and learned a lot.

Ben Bova and Doug Beason are the writers behind Space Station Down, on sale now through Tor Books.

Order Space Station Down Here

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