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I've not done collaborative writing before, but I've read several works, and sometimes the text strikes me as having a split personality: some parts were clearly written by one author, while others were written by another. (Note: I would give examples, but I can't remember any off-hand because I'm a bit sleep-deprived at the moment!)

So, the story itself is cohesive, but lacks a unified voice, so much so that it's distracting. Obviously, authors have very distinctive styles, and this can shine through very easily, so my question is really how do you ensure a unity of voice, or at the very least, incorporate the distinct voices of the authors in such a way that it isn't glaringly obvious that two different people were writing?

Would this come down to the editing process, or should you look at structuring the story in such a way that it can accommodate these different voices e.g. different narrators, POV's etc.?

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Great question! –  Monica Cellio Feb 9 '12 at 17:11

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

For fiction that can accommodate different POVs, dividing those up per author not only addresses this problem but can be a feature.

For cases where you want a unified voice, if you can't get a tough editor like Lauren Ipsum suggested, try having the authors edit each other's sections. In technical-writing teams I've found that this drives the material toward the center; I have no experience doing this with fiction but would expect it to work. But first sit everybody down to have the "don't take this personally; it's about the work" conversation to reduce the chance of bruised egos.

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+1 "try having the authors edit each other's sections" That's a great idea! –  Craig Sefton Feb 9 '12 at 16:06
    
Wow, that is a great idea. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 9 '12 at 20:23
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I think that the best solution would be to do both: Have the authors revise the others' work, then have an editor do the cleanup. Having an editor do all the work of unifying the writers' styles could be very expensive. –  Neil Fein Feb 12 '12 at 6:35

If you want to unify the voices: Get a tough editor.

Explain to him/her that you have two authors and you want to standardize their voices. You might pick a passage or a chapter which particularly reflects both writers, and say "make it all sound like that." Then be prepared to have a whole chunk of everything rewritten.

ETA: Examples of things which might be rewritten to create a balance of styles:

  • One author tends to use long, complex sentences with many clauses, interrupters, and parentheticals, and the other author uses short choppy sentences. The longer ones may be cut and made into several, and the shorter ones may be joined, until there's a happy medium.
  • One author use lots of description. The other is very minimalist. The descriptive sections can be trimmed down to remove some flourishes, and the spare sections padded out.
  • One author rarely uses dialogue tags, even "said." The other uses attributives, action tags, and dialogue tags in every line. Some attributives are rewritten or removed, and then some added where they are missing.
  • One author uses elaborate metaphors, and the other doesn't use them anywhere. Remove some and add to the other sections.

If you want distinctive voices: I like the idea of structuring to accommodate them.

For fiction, each author could take only certain characters/POVs. So Raymond's sections have short choppy sentences, with little description, while Anne's have a more flowing and atmospheric style. But Raymond only writes from the POV of a soldier, a general, and the vice president, while Anne writes from the POV of a concierge, a mad dictator, and the ambassador.

For non-fiction: Give the section an author's byline and quit worrying.

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"For fiction, each author could take only certain characters/POVs." I run a small project were do exactly this... it works surprisingly well... rhul.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/newsarticles/… –  Joe Feb 9 '12 at 15:49
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Alas, I think you're sidestepping the core with this answer. "Get a tough editor" is basically "get somebody who already knows how to solve this problem." So: What should a tough editor do to whip this kind of manuscript into shape? –  Standback Feb 9 '12 at 17:08
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I thought I answered that in the second paragraph, particularly in the last sentence: a lot of the text will be rewritten. Is that insufficient? Tell me what you're looking for and I'll expand my answer. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 9 '12 at 20:22
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It's just that your second paragraph basically says "pass the problem on to an editor," rather than explaining how to solve the problem. (Obviously, if large chunks are problematic, then large chunks need rewriting.) What I'm missing here is: what skills and methodology are helpful if I want to take a manuscript with two clear, clashing voices, and produce a manuscript with a single consistent voice? I don't feel you answer that, which IMHO misses the point. –  Standback Feb 11 '12 at 22:18
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Okay, I've edited my answer. Let me know if that helps. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 12 '12 at 3:15

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