The Big Idea: Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman
Posted on November 9, 2021 Posted by John Scalzi 2 Comments
Teamwork makes the dream work — but does teamwork make for dream novel writing? Authors Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman decided to make a go of co-writing their novel All of Us Villains, not knowing how it would work… and discovered something about themselves as writers in the process.
AMANDA FOODY and CHRISTINE LYNN HERMAN:
Some ideas start small — a feeling, a scene, a whisper that grows into a roar inside an author’s mind. But the idea for All of Us Villains felt capital-B Big from the beginning. We stumbled upon it during a conversation about YA tropes–the ones that made our teenage selves fall in love with reading YA books and, eventually, start writing them. Being best friends, it’s unsurprising that we had a favorite trope in common: the death tournament. But despite our individual careers as YA authors, neither of us were brave enough to tackle a trope so famous and dramatic alone.
So we decided to write it together.
Neither of us knew exactly what we were in for that day in the summer of 2017 when we brainstormed our main characters or created our first-draft Google Doc (…the first of many). But in the four years that followed, our book evolved from a fun experiment to a project that changed the way both of us thought about fiction and friendship.
The thing about co-writing is that it takes an immense amount of communication and trust. Fleshing out a concept is a challenging enough task for one writer. Add another one into the mix, and every decision comes with a lot more questions. There was also the matter of logistics. We’d be remiss not to give a massive shout-out to our MVP, Google Drive, whose various interfaces allowed us to collaborate on draft after draft and make color-coded outlines and editing schedules. Riveting details, obviously. But we’re providing them here to show that our big idea led to an even bigger learning curve, one with no real guides except each other.
Of course, the biggest learning curve of all wasn’t learning to share documents–it was learning to share a creative process. People who’ve experienced our friendship in person have occasionally asked if we share a brain, and it’s true that sometimes our visions would align in a kind of beautiful and terrifying symmetry. But it was just as common for us to take a world-building element or a potential plot twist and yank them in opposite directions. Every difference between us, no matter how tiny, was suddenly magnified. We dove deeply into each character, each story beat, each bit of world-building. And when we began to build a book from all those elements, we often disagreed on how they should be put together.
It became clear after our first draft that our fun experiment had surprisingly high stakes. There was a chance our novel would become a battle of wills–a thousand little arguments that would erode our friendship and lead to us abandoning the book.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, as we revised All of Us Villains, we also learned how to revise our collaborative process. Our differing opinions didn’t mean someone was right and someone was wrong–it meant each of us had something important to say. So instead of pushing back…we listened to each other. We deepened the friendship and trust that had gotten us this far into a deliberate work in progress, just like our book. And through hours-long phone conversations and excitable late-night texts, through shared playlists and all-caps comments, we knitted every single one of our seemingly contradictory points together.
The final version of All of Us Villains exists on a knife’s edge of such contradictions: heroism and villainy, blame and responsibility, fun and fright, a fantasy story that sometimes feels brutally real. It thrives in the spaces in between these extremes, in the gray area, in the questions. And it does so because we didn’t just ask all those questions of each other…we celebrated them.
As it turned out, our big idea wasn’t the kind of book we decided to write–it was our decision to write it together. Co-writing was a risk. It was also an incredible journey. And it led us to a friendship that’s brought out the best in us as people, and a book that’s brought out the best in us as writers.
All of Us Villains: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author sites of Foody and Herman.
I am sort of acquainted with half of a pair of best friends who wrote multiple novels together, and after all that, they married each other. Which attests to this being the sort of exercise that, if successful, really intertwines two people’s psyches.
Google Drive fist-bump! I honestly don’t know how I could do collaboration without it. Not just the docs, but yes to the color-coded spreadsheets and all the rest.