Monday, February 21, 2011

KILLERS (Sequel to Serial) at the Cutting Edge of Collaboration

This was a Google docs conversation done in real-time between Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath.

BLAKE: So, Joe, you’re watching me type this, right? Even though we live over a thousand miles apart...

JOE: I am. And you're watching me type this. In fact, I'll purposely make a typo, and watch you correct it as I'm finishing the sentence (which you just did.)

We're using Google docs (http://docs.google.com), which is an online storage method that allows several contributors to all have simultaneous access to a single document.

Now you and I have collaborated on many previous projects. For the original SERIAL, we each wrote our introductory sections, then wrote the third part together by trading emails. It was cool, but not very fast.

Then, for Draculas, we used Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) which allowed us and the other two authors (Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson) to all save and access MS Word documents by sharing the same folders on four different computers. While that was cool, Google docs is even cooler.

BLAKE: Before we started writing KILLERS, which we can talk about in a minute, we did a dry run on Google docs, just to test the software out. I knew immediately that it was going to change the way we collaborated. For people unfamiliar with Google docs, I’ll explain what it’s like to be in the document.

It looks like a standard Word doc, with some formatting toolbars at the top. The difference is, I not only see my cursor, I see Joe’s as well, which is pink at the moment. While I’m typing, I see you typing, and at first, that can be a little jarring and distracting (particularly when you correct or change a sentence as I type, like you’re doing right now!).

I can scroll up and down the doc while you write, but it doesn’t scroll the document for you. I feel like this makes the collaboration process so much faster, easier, and more interactive. You?

JOE: It's pretty cool. I never would have guessed that co-writing could be so easy. While it is a bit odd at first to see someone changing the sentence as I write it, it actually is both time-saving and simpler than going back and doing multiple rewrites. Two pairs of eyes on the same story at the same time means it takes less than half the time finish.

As for writing over each other, we worked out a system. When one of us is finished for the moment, we type a #. That means I'm ready for you to pick up the scene, or vice-versa.

BLAKE: I have a hunch that Google docs is responsible for KILLERS being three times as long as SERIAL. The writing just seemed to flow in this format. I felt more immersed in these scenes than the ones in SERIAL, because I could watch my co-writer create them in real time, and he could watch me. I have never experienced a collaborative situation like this before.

JOE: Do you think it might be daunting for potential collaborators to try and write together using Google docs? Some writers are slower, more deliberate. Others despise their first drafts and don't let anyone see them until they've been reworked extensively.

BLAKE: It could absolutely be daunting, and probably not something to just dive into without doing a little experimenting first, to make sure you’re comfortable with your co-writers. If you’re overly protective of your sentences, or don’t like someone looking over your shoulder while you write, this may not be the approach for you. But I find this method helps me to think faster on my feet, and lets the scene evolve more organically, instead of it being overly-thought out. On my own, I’m a slower, more methodical writer, and sometimes that has its drawbacks. Sometimes, you just need a freestyle approach to challenge yourself.

One of the other things we used was Skype, so that we could send each other instant messages while we were in the Google doc. Frequently, we’d IM each other, with something like, “I’m not feeling that line,” or, in one case, “are you sure you want to take the story in that direction?”

JOE: What I actually messaged you was: "You really want to stick that up her ass?" BTW, that turned out to be my favorite scene in the novella.

BLAKE: And I did, and it turned out to be my fave scene in the novella (ha! - we just wrote that at the same time). The thing about Google docs, is that it strips away all barriers to collaboration, most importantly time. So if you can get comfortable with your co-writer(s) and let your guard down and allow them access to the way you write, it can really take the story to unexpected and spontaneous places. That’s what I love most about this software.

JOE: I love correcting your mediocre prose as you write it. Saves me the time of having to try and explain to you why it isn't working.

But seriously, my truly favorite part is when we're both working on the same section at the same time and then start

BLAKE: finishing each other's thoughts.

JOE: LOL. Yeah. It is truly instantaneous, and really gets the creative juices flowing. It's the written equivalent of a conversation. But it's a conversation you can change, shape, and mold, and it is forever saved as a document.

Damn, I sound like a paid spokesman.

BLAKE: Wish Google was paying us. At least the software is free.

JOE: So let's talk about working on KILLERS, and what it's about (other than things in asses.)

BLAKE: It’s the sequel to the short story, SERIAL, which featured Donaldson (written by you), a psychopath who drives around picking up hitchhikers and killing them, and Lucy, my character, a hitchhiker who travels around the country killing the drivers who have the misfortune and poor judgment to give her a ride.

At the end of SERIAL they were both involved in a horrific accident of their own making. I think everyone assumed they were dead, but, as often happens with popular characters, they found a way into a sequel. In this case, they each wake up in a hospital room on the same floor, gravely injured, under arrest, but still wanting desperately to finish what they started--to kill each other.

JOE: We got over one hundred 1 star reviews for SERIAL, so of course we had to write more about these two. And once again we followed the same structure. You wrote a scene. I wrote a scene. We didn't show each other our scenes. Then we hopped into Google docs and tried to kill each other.

It was like playing tennis, or paintball, or chess, because we were both trying to win. While our characters interacted, we didn't use any interior monologue, so we didn't know what the other one was thinking, or any of the prior set-up (how injured they were, the weapons they carried, the plan they had.)

I can't think of anything I've ever written that was more creative, spontaneous, and downright fun.

BLAKE: In some ways, writing like this feels more like a performance than the drudgery of solitary writing or even standard collaboration. What you just wrote is accurate. It’s like playing a game. Cause and effect unfolding right before your eyes and although we have a broad idea of where we’re going, the journey from A to B is constantly a surprise.

We had a blast writing KILLERS

JOE: And writing this quickie interview.

BLAKE: and I hope that translates into a more intense experience for the reader. I also hope more writers explore collaboration through software like this, because it really stretches different muscles than sitting alone at a keyboard, slogging your way through a story.

JOE: Now I encourage everyone reading this to buy KILLERS, and judge if the story works or not. It's available right now on Amazon for $2.99, and will soon be available on Nook and every other ebook format.

Buy it right now, or I'm deleting my blog. :)

About KILLERS

Guess who's back?


A sequel two years in the making...

First there was SERIAL...

Acclaimed thriller writers Blake Crouch and Jack Kilborn pitted their skills against each other in a psychotic game of serial murder. Crouch wrote about Lucy, a hitchhiker who killed drivers. Kilborn wrote about Donaldson, a driver who killed hitchhikers. Then they brought their characters together and tried to slaughter one another on the page.

SERIAL has been downloaded over 350,000 times. The film rights have been optioned, and it is currently available as an ebook, in print in various collections, and forthcoming in audio.

Now comes KILLERS...

At the end of SERIAL, Donaldson and Lucy didn't die. When they each wake up in a hospital, under arrest for their crimes and guarded by the police, each burns with a single, overwhelming desire:

To escape and finish what they started.

That's going to be difficult with the deputies posted outside their hospital rooms and their life-threatening injuries, but these killers are hell-bent on finding a way.

Beyond a thrilling piece of horrifying suspense, KILLERS takes the collaborative literary experiment begun in SERIAL to the next level. Crouch wrote the first part. Kilborn wrote the second, and then, unaware of each other's opening section, they wrote the third part together in a Google Doc where they could simultaneously write in real time. All bets were off, and may the best psycho win.

At 18,500 words, KILLERS is a full-length novella, almost three times the length of SERIAL. This ebook contains KILLERS, a Q&A with Kilborn and Crouch, author bibliographies, and excerpts of Crouch's BREAK YOU, and Kilborn's, Konrath's and Crouch's SERIAL UNCUT.