cowriting

How to co-write your novel

Murandy Damodred and I wrote our fantasy / romantic comedy novel, Uncharted, together. This is not our first co-written novel. In fact, it’s our fifth, so we’ve got a system worked out. There are lots of ways to divide the work, but here’s our method:

cowriteFirst we split up the characters:

Since we write primarily romance, our stories have at least a male protagonist and a female protagonist, so for Murandy and I what works best is to divide the characters by gender. Murandy tends to write the female main character or characters and I write the male ones. This way, we split up the work and while writing, it’s easier and more interesting to have conversations with each other.

For Uncharted, that’s Meredith as the protagonist and Reginald and Grey as the lead male characters.

We discuss the story and the world and decide where we want to start:

Generally speaking any planning we do as far as coming up with the concept of the story and who the characters are has been done before this point, but now that we know who’s who, we can flesh things out. We bounce ideas off of one another to decide where the story begins and where the inciting incident is.

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In Uncharted, we started with the prologue. We wanted to show the moment that sets Meredith on her journey, as that journey was going to be central to the plot.

I set the scene:

As the narrator, it’s my job to describe the setting and to set the scene for the character(s).

From the prologue of Uncharted:

Noiseless on slippered feet, Meredith darted swiftly to the oversized double doors of the Celestial Chamber. She glanced once quickly over each shoulder to make sure she was still alone in the Great Hall before she gave the wide gilded handle a tug and felt the latch give way. With a grimace of effort, she pulled the heavy door open just enough to allow herself to squeeze into the chamber beyond.

Expecting darkness, moonlight dazzled her senses. The silvery light pooled in the middle of a wide and perfectly round central platform, serving to bring focus to the reason for this room’s existence: an ethereal-looking blue bowl lined with silver and filled with glittering water.

The Celestial Bowl beckoned to Meredith from its place on the solitary stone pedestal in the centre of the chamber. The sound of rushing water from the underground river that surfaced briefly in this room filled her ears as she let the heavy door fall quietly shut behind her.

Murandy decides what her character is thinking, doing, or saying:

In response to the information I’ve given her in my description of the scene, Murandy decides what happens next based on her character’s motivations.

I shouldn’t be in here, a small voice in the back of her mind reminded her, even as she took a step toward the glittering artifact. It’s only that I just can’t help but question if this life is for me. I want a family, a home…and a husband. I owe the Order for what they’ve done for me, but if I stay here and become a Priestess, I can’t have any of those things.

If I can just have a look at my destiny tonight, then maybe the path I should take will become clear. Besides, she countered the nagging sound of her conscience, if I wait until tomorrow’s ceremony to see my future, it will be too late to change it.

I let her know how the world or the characters around her react:

Her decision made, Meredith closed the distance between herself and the bowl with purpose, crossing the small, railless stone bridge spanning a gap over the rushing water beneath. As she neared the bowl, she kept her eyes fixated on the calm, reflective surface of the water within, not wanting to chance missing even the slightest bit of whatever vision it might grant her. Moonlight glinted off the silver interior of the bowl, making the room seem brighter than it actually was. As if in a trance, she lost herself in the beauty of the dancing light and that was when she saw it.

A man, no…only his torso, wearing a dark grey suit coat buttoned over his left breast. He stood with pride in his bearing, but beyond the grey coat and a single purple flower in his lapel the image cut off at the neck and didn’t show his face. Meredith leaned forward, trying to get a better angle.

The vision, if that’s what it was, continued and she saw herself from behind, unmistakeable with her lengthy waves of chocolate brown hair cascading over the hood of her light grey Priestess cloak. The vision of herself flung herself at this man and his arms reached up to hold her. Engrossed now, Meredith leaned directly over the bowl, determined to get a glimpse at the face of her mystery man when the image in the silver-lined water abruptly disappeared.

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And so it goes:

Back and forth, the action and dialogue unfold as control of the scene is passed between us. And when one scene ends, we repeat the process, deciding where to start, setting the scene, adding thoughts, actions and dialogue, and responding. This is what works for Murandy and I, but there are lots of ways to co-write and divide the work. The trick is to work with someone you can rely on, trust, and generally get along with because co-writing takes a lot of compromise and being on the same page.

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts or questions about co-writing? Have you tried it? Leave your comments below!

Cover Reveal: Unintended by Justine Alley Dowsett & Murandy Damodred

It’s the cover reveal we’ve all been waiting for! (Or at least, that I’ve been waiting for ;)) The talented Sara Biddle (cover artist for the Mirror Series) has done it again! Unintended is a #comedic #fantasy #romance by Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred launching August 17th, 2015. Uncover3

Everything happens for a reason…

Four people. Four very different lives. Four tales interwoven.

Meet Kenzie en Shareed, the High Clan Chief’s daughter who is sent south to fulfill a treaty by marriage only to marry the wrong man; Kadrean Authier, the Crown Prince who must come to terms with his new bride, even if he doesn’t much like the idea; Garron D’Arbonne, a noble Lord who has been commanded to marry a cool and aloof princess he doesn’t love; and Vivianne Chappelle, a young and ambitious woman who is in love with her abusive father’s manservant and must find a way to avoid having her entire future decided for her.

Fate and wills collide in this Shakespearian-style romantic comedy about good intentions and their unintentional consequences.

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Read an excerpt:

The rolling hills and grasslands of Ismera were strange to her in the beginning. Now, after nearly a month of riding through them, they had begun to seem commonplace. What the High Clan Chief’s daughter was not prepared for, however, were the high turrets of the palace she was headed towards and the sprawling city of Ismer that surrounded it. Even more surprising than all that was the fanfare that greeted her when at last she reached the city’s high-walled gate.

A handsome man atop a white horse rode boldly out to greet her, without so much as a weapon drawn or a friend to watch his back.

They are much more trusting here of strangers than they are back at home, she noted. Unless, it’s only that they don’t consider me a stranger.

Mackenzie en Shareed of Haldoram straightened her back, instinctively preparing herself to make a good impression. She felt her breath catch in her throat as he came closer and she realized that the man before her, with his sunny hair, tanned skin and bright blue eyes could be none other than the man she’d ridden all the way here to marry. She felt her usually flawlessly tanned skin flush an uncomfortable shade of red as she watched him dismount and walk the rest of the way to her side, a wide grin spreading across his face at the sight of her.

I didn’t expect him to be so handsome.  Kenzie found that as much as she might want to, she couldn’t deny the pounding of her heart or the fluttering in her stomach. I’m very fortunate to be attracted to him so easily.

If he took notice of her discomfort he didn’t show it, bowing over her hand and kissing it lightly. “Princess Mackenzie, let me be the first to welcome you to the City of Ismer.”

Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Kenzie reached for the marriage bracelet she’d woven herself for this very occasion. Unhooking it carefully from her belt, she caught his hand before he could take it away and swiftly wrapped the small, white-flowered wreath about his wrist, tying it with a practiced motion.

She could see in her husband-to-be’s eyes that he was confused, but she didn’t have time to explain it to him now. That would come later, after they were entwined together in their marriage bed. Right now, only the ritual mattered.

I have to do this now, she affirmed silently. Once I enter this city of theirs and am completely surrounded by Ismeran culture and politics it will be too late to marry him in my own way, in front of my people and by our customs. It’s the only way I will feel comfortable with his arrangement. I can marry him in the Ismeran way afterwards.

The barest nod over her shoulder was enough to bring Seraphina over. Her mentor and friend had accompanied her this far and now she played her part of the wedding ceremony by bringing forth the wreath that Prince Kadrean would place upon her head, sealing their arrangement and making them man and wife.

Aging Seraphina bowed before the Prince, despite the aching old bones she always complained of, holding out the wreath before her in offering.

“Take it,” Seraphina urged him, her English much less accented than Kenzie knew her own to be. “You must place it upon her head and say the words.”

Looking as confused as ever, the Prince took the woven white flowers and did as instructed.

“What words, exactly?”

“I be bhur agus thu de agamsa,” Kenzie spoke in her native tongue, making sure to properly enunciate each syllable so he could follow along.

“I be burr…” he began, trying his hardest to stumble through the words that were foreign to him, “a Gus who de Gamsa.”

That’s good enough, I suppose…  Kenzie frowned, regarding him. Though I thought that being the heir to these lands, he would have some knowledge of Gaelic.

“You may call me Kenzie,” she told him, dismissing her negative thoughts with a smile, before leaning in to kiss him, as was customary.

Seraphina and the other clanspeople who’d made the journey with her began to cheer, but their cheers were cut short when her new husband pulled back from her in surprise. “Whoa! I don’t know what’s expected between two strangers in the North, but here in the South it’s customary to save that kind of greeting for your husband.”

“Yes?”

“Yes…” he agreed, searching her eyes as if to gauge how much of the language she understood, “so I have a fiancée and you have a Prince who’s waiting very anxiously to meet you up at the Palace.”

Kenzie suddenly felt ill and more than a little dizzy. “You are not Prince Kadrean…?” The golden-haired stranger she’d just married wore a look of concern mixed with confusion. “Then who are you?”

“Uh…” He cleared his throat, made a little uncomfortable by the stares of the clanspeople. “Lord Garron D’Arbonne…at your service, Your Highness.”

An uncomfortable silence fell over them and the clansfolk, but Kenzie couldn’t find it in her to break it or fill it with anything meaningful. Her entire focus was on keeping herself from hyperventilating.

I just married this Garron D’Arbonne… Not the Prince; not my intended. Kenzie was in full panic at the gravity of the error she had just committed. How can I fix this?! The marriage bond is forever, never able to be undone… A man can remarry, under certain circumstances, but can a woman? Would they even allow such a thing?

My father will be so disappointed in me. He wanted this treaty between our lands to work. I’ve only just arrived and I’ve already ruined it. What am I going to do?!

“Well,” Garron cleared his throat again, “we should be going. I’m sure Prince Kadrean is eager to meet you.”

Gesturing forward, her husband held out his arm for her.

No, I mustn’t think of him that way, she admonished herself. He is my husband, but he’s right, I’m supposed to marry Prince Kadrean. There is a treaty; our marriage is law. It must happen…

Unintended is expected to launch August 17th, 2015. Until then, keep an eye out for pre-order opportunities and more information by following this blog or signing up for our new release newsletter here.

1usWith a background in Drama and Communications from the University of Windsor, Murandy Damodred (left) enjoys fantasy fiction with strong romantic subplots. She is an avid roleplayer and is happiest when living vicariously through her characters. Though she’d rather think of herself as the heroine of her next novel, in the real world she is an expert in sales and management living in Windsor, Ontario.

From obtaining a BA in Drama at the University of Windsor to becoming an entrepreneur in video game production and later, publishing, Justine Alley Dowsett’s unswerving ambition has always led her to pursue her dreams. Today she lives in Windsor, Ontario and is still writing and publishing fiction novels. When not focusing on growing her business, she enjoys roleplaying with friends and developing new ideas to write about.

Don’t Listen to the Nay-Sayers, Co-Writing is Easy!

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Whenever I mention that I co-write with my sister, I am met with a variety of reactions, but typically those reactions center around how HARD it must be to write with another person. I don’t agree. Co-writing has its challenges and no one ever said that writing was an easy task to begin with, but co-writing also has its advantages and in some ways can make the monumental task of writing a whole novel more efficient, more fun and a whole lot less lonely.

Here are a few of the comments I typically hear when people learn that my sister, Murandy Damodred, and I are a writing team.

“OMG, how do you do that?”

Well, I suppose it would seem odd and unfathomable to someone who has never tried it. Writing is generally seen as a solitary task, but I don’t see it that way. At least, it doesn’t only have to be that way.

Writing is a form of communication and it doesn’t just have to be communication between the author and the audience, it can also be a conversation between yourself and your co-author. When Murandy and I write, I will typically set up the scene and then Murandy will respond with what she, as the character in that scene says or does in response. Then I, as the world, or as another character in the scene respond to her and so it goes.

We typically use Google Documents so that we can both be writing and watching each other write on the same page at the same time, but we’ve passed a laptop back and forth or a pad of paper before as well. Tip: Google Documents also has a lot of handy features for co-writing, such as a chat window for when you’re not in the same room and need to talk outside of what you’re adding to the page. There are more features, but I’ll let you go have a look at them for yourself.

“Wouldn’t it be difficult or annoying to deal with another person’s thoughts?”

Why yes, sometimes it is. Though, mainly, you just have to be flexible and also know how you and your partner work together. That takes trial and error and it also takes practice. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that someone who is meticulous about planning or who is a control-freak when it comes to how their story will play out attempt co-writing, but with the right partner it could be possible. When writing with another person, you have to be open to where the story is going to take you both because with two minds at work, you can never really be certain where that is going to be. Though, some planning helps. Murandy and I have taken to keeping a ‘living document’ in Google drive where we constantly add or remove ideas about the novel we’re working on, so if something changes in our plans, then we can adapt quickly and not lose track of where we wanted things to go.

“Wouldn’t you argue a lot?”

Yes. It’s great. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

We argue to hash things out in the plot or with the characters and setting and we argue as we write when a character does something unexpected or that one of us doesn’t agree with. We also argue AS the characters on the page (those are the best fights). Arguing is a part of life and it’s where the best drama comes from. In the end, I’m proud to say that each and every argument or discussion you read in our novels is REAL and it’s going to read that way. We don’t pull any punches.

“So, how does it work?”

Ok, for this, you can see my earlier response about writing as a conversation, but it goes deeper than that. For Murandy and myself, we divide the work by picking which characters we’re going to represent.  Murandy is almost always the main character, or protagonist, while I play opposite her as the alternate lead and I usually control the setting she interacts with. That’s what we’ve found to work best for us, but we’ve also tried some other divisions. In our next book, Unintended, launching August 17th, 2015, there are four main characters, so Murandy is playing the two female leads while I’m playing the male ones.  Then, during the process we write back and forth whether it be dialogue or action and allow the story to unfold based on what the characters choose to do and how they react to each other.

“That’s impressive. I don’t think I could ever do that.”

Well…. Thank you! Whenever I hear this comment, I’m not quite sure how to take it. I’ve written books by myself (The Crimson Winter Trilogy) and I’ve written some with Murandy (The Mirror Series, and Unintended) and I’ve also written with a team of three (Neo Central) and I can honestly say that writing with another person is faster, more engaging and entertaining and having someone to bounce ideas off of and talk about the story with only makes it more fun. Also, Murandy is great at keeping me motivated and on task, so there’s an added bonus right there.

Also, I don’t agree. You CAN do it. You just need the write partner and the right story and I promise you that it will sweep you away. You’ll be so busy writing and having so much fun doing it you won’t have time to think about how much work it really is.

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Murandy Damodred (left) and Justine Alley Dowsett (right) are the owners of Mirror World Publishing and the authors of Neo Central, Mirror’s Hope, Mirror’s Heart and the upcoming Unintended. Murandy Damodred has a background in sales and media and Justine Alley Dowsett has worked in a variety of industries, but considers herself an entrepreneur and an author above all else. For more information on them or their books, please visit: www.mirrorworldpublishing.com