This week I received a message from two past students who are reading Along Comes a Wolfe:
The question of how Angie and I collaborate is our most often asked question. I am sure I’ve shared it before, but I will share it again.
We always begin with an outline, spending weeks figuring out the broad strokes of the story. We are trying to answer:
- who are the killers?
- what is the beginning?
- what is the end?
- what is the journey between each section or act?
Figuring out the killers is the priority—but it can remain vague. We’ll often have a general idea of who they are, but not actually their identity within the story. In Wolfe in Shepherd’s Clothing, the killer bounced around a lot, and their connections to the story changed as well.
Since Shepherd & Wolfe is a series, we often know where the story starts, but we like to re-establish it for ourselves. The ending usually involves nailing down the set piece of the last confrontation. We want something interesting and unique, where we can build a lot of action beats. Once we have those two endpoints, we then sketch what the journey between them looks like.
When we were writing Along Comes a Wolfe, we built out a thorough outline with over a hundred story beats. However, as we’ve continued to write these books, those beats always get changed during the work. We’ll take detours as more interesting ideas show up.
So this has led us to outline in broader terms. We don’t nail down the specific path, but only leave a list of interesting moments we’d like to play with. When we finally get to that section, we’ll then decide the steps that take us through it.
Once we have a plan in place, Angie always starts the writing. She usually takes a few days or weeks before she gets it sorted out in her head and puts actual words on the page.
We now do daily morning check-ins. We’ll see how the writing is going and work out any potential story problems. Once Angie has clarity, she’ll continue on and fill in the words.
Then I follow behind her and clean things up. She often explores a lot in her writing, so there may be an excess of words or repetition as she tries to get the story beats on the page. I’ll clean it up, trying to organize the logic of the scene.
She’ll keep writing until the midpoint and I will follow behind her, and then she’ll rest, and I will leapfrog over her to continue writing.
I’m always grateful for the hard work she does in the first half. She sets the tone and voice of the words, and brings a sense of play that I’ll build on. Sometimes she’ll include some great bits, but they don’t fit perfectly in the place she originally has them, but I’ll save them and use them for later.
She’ll follow behind me, making notes for me to clarify my words and thinking. She’ll make some corrections, but by then, we’re expecting a complete overhaul that our editor Heather will bring to the story.
I can’t overstate Heather’s contribution. The Shepherd & Wolfe books wouldn’t be what they are without her.
So that’s the process of collaboration. If you have questions, or want clarity about the process, please ask in the comments below.