One of the things which puzzles me is how a writer works with another writer on the same book/episode/movie. Is it like a round robin? Does one writer write an entire rough draft and the other suggests changes as they read along?
About collaboration — Everybody winds up devising his or her own method. I don’t know what other writing teams or groups do, but around here, this is how Peter and I manage it:
Assign a project leader. Which of you is better at this particular kind of work? “Better” being a very specific value judgment that varies from project to project. It can mean: Who does this kind of work faster? Who does this with less day to day effort? (Because you have to factor in the wearying effects of long-haul projects.) Who does this work with more insight / nuance / depth ? Which of you has been doing it longer? And sometimes, who has more credential? — though this often holds less weight inside the household than it does outside. One of us may know that the other is better at a particular kind of storytelling even though that one doesn’t have as much formal credential as the other. (Also sometimes affecting this choice: Which of you does the company you’ve contracted with think is the project leader? — and here issues of credential may be involved.)
Additionally: which of you is more at ease with the specific genre of this project? (Around here, mostly this means me for SF and technical stuff: Peter for material that’s more strictly fantastic, or more loosely speculative, or anything with a strong military or military-historical background.)
The project leader does a lot of the heavy lifting on the next step:
Decide a work strategy. This is usually determined by the kind of work being done. For novels: is the work going to be long or short? Sometimes one of us is stronger at short work, the other at long. In that case, whichever partner is better at the length in question executes the first draft and the other one polishes him or her. Or: is the novel a licensed work? Then the partner more familiar with the universe in question does first draft, concentrating on keeping in-universe detail right, and again the other polishes.
However, balancing against this: for books, if there’s already a detailed outline (normal around here), as a rule the partner who did the outline is deferred to in regards to choosing who’ll do what.
This is how we handled The Romulan Way: the outline was extremely detailed and either of us could have handled either “side” of the narrative — which was divided, like Spock’s World, into sections dealing with historical background and the present-day action narrative of the story. One of us wound up taking one “side” and one the other, in first draft. Then, to make sure the tone remained consistent through the book, each of us polished the other’s work. Then we jointly went through the text one final time, looking over one another’s shoulders, and did a sort of livestream polish.
As a result, most readers of the book aren’t entirely sure which of us did what, which is just as it should be. A collaborative novel (at least the way we hold it around here) should not have obvious lumps of Morwood or Duane sticking out of the mixture like some kind of literary toad-in-the-hole. It should be smooth, showing off each party’s strengths and melding into something corporate. Working together, we ought to be more, and different, than the two of us working separately.
Screenplay work goes a little differently, depending on whether what we’re doing is a “step deal” (implying separate documents for premise/proposal, treatment, and full script, or some variation on the theme) or not. At such times I always do the shorter documents (having way more practice with them than Peter does). Then we look at the requirements of the script proper. Is it serial drama? We break it down by acts and take turns writing the acts, usually.* Is it a miniseries, broken down by hours? Normally we alternate hours and then polish each other before turning a given hour in. Feature film? Break it down either along the standard three-act paradigm, or by scenes (“You take one to twenty, I’ll take twenty-one to forty…”): or in some cases, along other lines that work better: favorite scenes (“You take Siegfried’s stuff with the sword, you know you want to do that. I’ll take Brunnhild’s bit where she wrestles with her husband and hogties him, that’ll be fun…”), or action sequences vs. quiet relationship sequences, or what-the-hell-ever. The point is to make the work easier for both of you.
And finally: Assign veto power to one partner. This is separate from designating a “project leader” because the skills don’t always coincide, or map correctly to one another. Sometimes you know that one of you will be better (for a given project) at telling when something isn’t working, or when something needs to be dropped and the two of you need to move on. But if you’re genuinely not sure, you flip a coin. (And in the aftermath, whoever won the toss somehow always turns out to have been the right one for the job.)
The understanding is that vetos can be briefly discussed or explained but are not renegotiable while the project is running/incomplete. Mostly, the Veto-er just says “no” or “stop that!” or “Let’s leave that alone for now and move on”, and the other partner does it. This can save endless time and trouble in mid-project when something starts to go wrong. It requires, of course, that you respect each other’s judgment and trust one another implicitly. Which, fortunately, after pushing three decades doing this, we do. (And it can also teach you to trust one another, if you’re just getting started at this kind of thing.)
So. These strategies have brought us (collectively) through a number of novels, a batch of animated work, and an award-winning miniseries. As I said, I don’t know what other teams do: but this approach works for us.
*This can produce amusing side effects, like the time we were writing an episode of “Batman: the Animated Series”. I wrote act 1 over the course of an evening and then went to bed. Peter, who likes working at night, was in the middle of act 2 well after midnight when the cat caught a bat and brought it in for him, alive and unhurt (and Peter then brought it in for me, at 2 AM). The bat was Not Amused. I also was Not Amused (at being awakened. I don’t mind bats, and this one was kind of cute, despite being pissed off and yelling at us both in Bat until it was put outside again and flew off.) But we took it as a good omen for the screenplay….