How To Break The Rules And Get Away With It (or, How Do Co-Writers Write?)

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Since we’re a writing duo (male & female at that), many times when we’re at book signings or other places the most commonly-asked question is “How do two people write a book together?”

Very carefully!

Ready for the scary details? Pour yourself a cup of tea and get ready for this exclusive behind-the-scenes visit with J&C Wordsmiths: “HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND GET AWAY WITH IT”…. Just like that one J We use CAPs and dot, dot, dots methodically.

Rule #1: No Rules! That’s right, friends, we make up our own rules as we go, and we change them up from book to book in our Task Force series (we’re busy writing our fifth book, with a fifth agreed-upon procedure for its creation). While it could be considered a rule, we actually deem it a tradition in our writing process: we write the beginning of the book first—sounds normal, right? We write chapter 1 first, only because it’s also the teaser for the end of the prior book (because it’s a series). Next, we write the last chapter, (so we know how the multiple story lines are supposed to come together and how to create the lead into the next book in our series!) This also requires copious amounts of coffee, tea (and sometimes bourbon), so as to temper our heated discussions—until we arrive at a mutually-satisfying beginning and ending set of chapters (i.e.: Cyndi wins—Jack says “Yes ma’am Sgt. Ham”).

Because we write our stories in real-time (that is, our characters age from book to book—yes, much like we do—gray hair, arthritis and all the rest!) We decide what actions transpired in the time between books—then decide what we want to have happen to them during the book’s time. Sounds like a soap opera, huh? We have an ensemble cast of characters to visit in each book (our teachers and mentors have always taught to focus on just a few main characters).  Did we listen? No. Instead we consider what happened in the character’s lives: weddings, funerals, births, arrests, sexual awakenings, epiphanies, and on and on. Then we decide on what happens to them during the text. Finally, at long last, we decide on what, if any, actions in their lives are to be addressed in future stories—because, as in real life, things are still happening even when today is over. Nice and confused already? Pour another cup of tea (or something stronger). We’ll wait…

We haven’t even addressed what is supposed to happen to our main hero, his teammates, and the secondary heroes that may play a larger role!  Then CONFLICT! Oh the fun and challenging conflicts, that lead to more conflicts, and more twists and turns. Then, the almighty question—do we kill one of the heroes? Heaven forbid. That’s always a discussion accompanied by a couple stiff shots, we’ll wait for you while you refill yours, too.

By this point the first and last chapters (let’s save words and call them the Bookends, shall we?) are written, edited, rewritten, cussed and discussed, and saved; the first chapter gets copied into the prior book in the series before it goes to the publisher, and the last gets saved to the big white board in our office for constant reference as we begin the process of outlining everything that happens between the Bookends.

Notice that we haven’t mentioned the villain de tome yet? Time for another shot, as this is the point where our discussion can get really heated. Go get your own refill again, we’ll wait.

Plotting our villain isn’t easy. We don’t want to use the same type we’ve used in our other books (at least in method, as our villains do kill, after all). Even here we’ve broken our own rule for book 5 in that we ARE using a villain who has already appeared in two prior stories in our series! This time we’re seriously fleshing him, or her, out even more. They’re going to be profound recurring villain, slightly in the mold of Wo Fat (from the original Hawaii Five-O, not the reboot version) and Blackbeard and Scaramanga (if you’re a James Bond fan, then you know who this is). Our villain requires an entire history in order for their villainy and murders to be viable. Hours and hours of discussion are required, research online for papers by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other specialists on the accuracy of this villain’s psyche, more conversations about the “how” of his murders and what clues would be left behind that the regular law enforcement officials would miss (and hence bring in our own heroes to hopefully save the day). Oh, by the way, NEVER try to look up “what does the inside of the Pentagon look like” on the internet—or the White House—or Homeland Security—or how to make a bomb. We’re now on the watch list and will never fly on a plane again without a full body cavity search! By now we’re on the tequila and coming to a consensus of our villain’s nature.

At this point, the first and last chapters are still the only ones written.

Now we begin outlining the complete story… backwards.

  1. How do the heroes and villain finally meet? What is the conflict? What is the resolution? Does the villain survive to come back in a future story?
  2. How does the climax lead to the final confrontation?
  3. What are the clues that lead the heroes to find the villain?
  4. What is the scene that puts our heroes on the case?
  5. Dialog is just as important as narrative.  Dialog is an excellent way to retrieve those flashback moments from book to book.
  6. Each chapter ends leaving the reader hanging, “needing” to hurriedly move to the next chapter (while they’re sitting in bed at 2:00AM—and late for work the next morning.)
  7. Then we edit to ASSURE it’s detailed, accurate, the reader is sucked in so that they feel like they’re actually IN the story.  They can see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, feel it.  We give it color, texture, emotions, sounds, all the things an artist would put into a painting that “speaks to you.”

You get the point by now.

On our white board are several character storylines that will be spread across 100,000+ words in 50-60 chapters, and thus begins the writing from the beginning (after chapter 1, that is). The first victim is usually our own bottle of rum before the villain commits his own first gruesome kill. For the next several months we write and write, often deviating from the written outline as the scenes evolve and the characters literally take over the keyboard and help write the story themselves. Somewhere around the halfway point we will have thought of a story for the next book in the series, and depending on the featured hero of that book one of our hero storylines will be modified.  In the meantime, the FBI are in their cars just down the street from our office, in their black cars with blackened window, listening to every word we speak.

And for that next book?  Nah.  All the above is out the window…

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