The Joys and Pains of Collaboration in Screenwriting and Novels

The Joys and Pains of Collaboration in Screenwriting and Novels

The Joys and Pains of Collaboration in Screenwriting and Novels

Lewis Ritter
Lewis Ritter
2 years ago

Many screenplays and teleplays start as the work of one person. A writer gets inspiration for a great script and develops and rewrites it via multiple drafts until it is ready to read. They work out the details in grueling months’ worth of thought and writing. The initial draft gets rewritten countless times until the last version of the script is “finished” and ready to submit to a producer or a screenplay competition. If the writer is lucky, the script may be optioned or bought by a producer. You often watch a movie and notice several credits on a script. This means that multiple writers developed a script through multiple drafts before the producers were satisfied with the final script (what writers are credited on-screen depends on a process with the WGA, and some writers who worked on the script won’t receive on-screen credit). Often, the original writer may not even recognize his original work! Welcome to the world of screenwriting!

Another method of creating screenplays is to collaborate with a second writer. Occasionally the first writer finds a fellow writer interested in collaborating on a script. Sometimes, one of the writers creates the original idea or does the initial outline for the story. The other writer may contribute dialogue, new complications, or a terrific plot twist to enrich the story. Each writer will have their specialties that they can bring to the partnership.

The Joys and Pains of Collaboration in Screenwriting and Novels

The best outcome is when both collaborators have similar ideas on what the final project will become. They work well together. Each writer contributes their own ideas on story direction, i.e., plot or dialogue, in either a writers’ room or a video call. They can work separately and then meet at a set time during the week to compare notes or combine changes into a script.

Collaboration works in movies, but I feel that novels should be the work of one person. Novels are the personal reflection of the writer's life and memories incorporated into their original story. They may have different viewpoints or life experiences that do not mesh with the other writer's ideas. I offered a novelist a chance to collaborate on my “Turbulence” novel. Thankfully, he turned it down. I was grateful because it might have resulted in a mishmash of ideas and images. It might have been a failure. Another fact to consider is being the sole writer of a novel gives you all the sole credit, good or bad for the result.

Evolution of Turbulence and Mr. Zak

A few years ago, I attended a writer’s workshop at a local high school evening class. I got friendly with the seminar leader. We wound up collaborating on two projects that are potential streaming projects.

I read the original version of Mr. Zak to the teacher in the class. Zak was originally based on my experience teaching in an inner-city school. He suggested it would be better if the main character were the Vice Principal or even the Principal instead of a teacher. I rewrote the script and entered it into the People’s Pilot competition, where it became a Semi-Finalist. A while later, we redeveloped the script and made Zak a wounded combat veteran with friends who were also veterans with difficult life situations. Sometimes, a script will evolve from its earlier version and be quite different from your original concept. We collaborated on different versions of the Turbulence script, and it was his suggestion to add in a sexy DJ as an occasional narrator and toss in more seventy’s dialogue. This meant cursing and language that would be taboo by today’s standards.

The Joys and Pains of Collaboration in Screenwriting and Novels

Downside of Collaboration

The problem arises when the collaboration becomes one-sided. If the collaborators have different visions for the script or think their ideas, scenes sequence, or dialogue are superior to the other writer's ideas. Sometimes a partnership will result in one of the more experienced writers taking the lead in developing the script. At this point, the other writer must accept the idea and put his ego aside. If not, chances are that the collaboration will fail. At that point, they agree to let one or the other take over the project. If it is an amicable parting of ways, they may come back to work on another project in the future. Collaboration can be either a blessing or a curse, but you should always consider it an option unless you prefer to work alone on your masterpiece.

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About the Author

Lewis Ritter

Lewis Ritter

Screenwriter

I LEW RITTER BIO Lew Ritter is a retired teacher from Bergen County NJ. He has held many careers from working in the Air Courier industry in the 70’s and 80’s, the computer industry in the 90’s as a Unix Operations personnel and finally as a Library...

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