Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Delicate Art of Collaboration

Collaborating can be fun for writers, and a happy relief from the solitary life that we tend to lead.

There are two writers in our house. We work on our own projects a lot, and we’re perfectly comfortable doing that: working separately all day, and then coming together at mealtimes and in the evenings to do a bit of sharing. It’s nice, though, when we can sit in an office together, and mull over a joint venture.

The husband and I have developed a comfortable way of collaborating… Comfortable for us at least. We tend to tie down plots quite tightly, and then play a kind of relay race. I generally begin writing, and then he takes over when he’s ready or when I run out of steam, or he encourages me to keep going if what I’m doing enthrals him. We don’t wrangle much, and the husband tends to have the final say in most decisions… not that I’m not prepared to put up a fight, if I think it’s worth it.

I recently acquired a new collaborator.

The Dort and Me at the Guardians of the Galaxy Premier
Back in the spring, the dort asked me if I’d be interested in writing for the theatre. Well, of course I would. She managed to secure a slot to produce a play for the autumn term on the strength of her pitch, without even having a script in her hand.

She’s a force of nature, the dort. I don’t know how she does it, but when she sets her mind to it, she seems capable of doing just about anything.

Of course, once she'd secured the slot, I had the responsibility of writing a script.

The dort had a concept, and we talked through some ideas. Her approach is very visual, and a little more scattergun than mine, but, after a few sessions, I had enough material to begin scripting.

I haven’t worked in this medium before. The closest I’ve come to it is comic books, in which there’s a visual element as well as a written one. I generally write novels and short stories, and I like the idea that there are no filters between the writer and the reader. Theatre isn’t like that.

Theatre involves the director interpreting the text, and the actors interpreting the characters. The dort’s directing this project, so I have the advantage of of being pretty close to the end product. I might even exercise my prerogative and sit in on some of the rehearsals, if I get the chance.

The dort gave me mostly visual notes to work from, and basic ideas about character. Her process is fluid… one idea leading to another, so I had quite a lot of material. Some of it was contradictory, and some of it was difficult for me to see past, but I was willing to make a start, and compromise as we went along.

Writing naturalistic dialogue isn’t easy, especially when that dialogue is all the words that will appear on the stage. Initially, the dort thought I’d simply write dialogue, but I found that impossible. So, I wrote a full script, with stage directions. Of course, if she wants to alter the directions to suit the space, the actors and her own interpretation of the piece, that’s good too. I wrote it this way for the ease of writing and not to control the outcome.

We’ve gone back and forth several times during the writing of the script. She’s given me notes, some of which I struggled to get, and when I wasn’t convinced, she very sensibly, and very pragmatically argued her points.

This is not ‘our’ project in the way that the husband and I make a joint work. This project is much more part me and part her. I impose some order on her thoughts, and she pours out more thoughts. It’s all quite delightful.

I’m at the editing stage now. The dort’s ideas about changes seemed big at the outset, but have ended up being only a nip or a tuck on the page: a little extra dialogue here, a scene change there.

We now have eighty-plus pages of script with built in wiggle-room, and clear ideas for the physical theatre elements, which the dort has planned to be a significant part of the whole.

Working on something new is exciting. Working in a new medium is stretching my skills close to their limits, and definitely out of my comfort zone, and working with a new collaborator is throwing up all kinds of alternative ways to communicate ideas.

This is fun!

It hasn't been without its moments of tension, but I think we’re going to end up with something quite exciting… something the dort, with her vision, expertise and experience, can turn into a compelling theatrical experience.

I wouldn’t have missed this for the World… And if I ever get the chance to do it again, I’ll jump at it.

Who knows, maybe next time, I might even get a fee.

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