How Story Collaboration Works
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin, authors of Where Treetops Glisten
Sometimes being an author is a lonely existence. Fictional characters fill my (Sarah’s) mind. They fight, they laugh, they talk, they fall in love … and for most of the time I’m the only one who knows what’s happening with them. That is until I enter their world, and their words and experiences land on the page to eventually be sent to my editor’s desk. Still it’s my computer and me, lonely partners in the world of creating stories.
This isn’t the case for collaboration projects. Tricia’s written a number of them from Love Finds You novels with her friend Ocieanna Fleiss and two World War II spy novels with Mike Yorkey. Cara’s collaborated on two novella collections for Barbour. Now the three of us have partnered for a World War II Christmas novella collection, Where Treetops Glisten.
Because the writing process is so different when writing novella collections, we have a few recommendations for those considering a collaborative collection.
1. Understand the strengths and the weaknesses of your collaborators. No one person writes a novel in the same way. Tricia is a write-by-the-seats-of-her-pants type of author, Sarah runs off of spreadsheets, and Cara was the connecter and lead researcher for us all. Through a few calls and many emails we figured out a system that worked. We leaned on each other, depending on each other’s strengths to create a unique collection.
2. When collaborating, look for the elements readers expect from each of you, and focus on combining them. We had all agreed we wanted to work together, but then we had to decide how. We started with a conference call where we specifically discussed what we believe each of our readers like in our books. Fortunately, we could weave those together into a collection tied by location, family, and home front careers plus a sister who goes overseas.
3. Look for a theme and other elements that can tie the series together. Our initial theme was Christmas carols. So many wonderful carols were penned and released during World War II, songs that we cherish today. Then we decided that our story would center on siblings and their experiences during the war – each in a different year. After that we decided their wise grandmother would hold the collection together through a prologue and epilogue in her point of view, as well as her presence in each of the novellas. She became the voice of wisdom to each grandchild at the moment they needed it. She also became a fun, feisty lady who added spark and sass to the pages.
4. Evaluate what you’re willing to give up for the good of the project. In our case we were able to pull everything together…but you have to be willing to give as well for the good of the story. That means asking others for input on their characters to make sure they are consistent from story to story and that you’re willing to acknowledge when you need help.
5. Organize your information. Since our stories followed one family from 1941 to 1945, many details flowed through each story. Cara drew up a floor plan of the home we used for the Turner family. Sarah kept a master timeline listing dates of births, deaths, weddings, graduations, military training, and pertinent WWII events. Likewise, a character chart tracked physical traits, quirks, nicknames, etc. Our editors also found those documents useful.
6. Communication. Not only did we communicate in the brainstorming and proposal-writing phases, but during writing and editing, and now doing publicity. We sent lots of emails: “Who would Abigail want in her wedding party?” “What would Pete be doing now?” “What would Merry be feeling?” “Is there a garage on the property? If not, where do they park the car?” Not only was communication vital for story flow, but it built our friendships and our appreciation for each other.
Collaboration is a wonderful addition to the writing experience. If you can find the right concept and the right friends to write with, then we highly recommend it.
Cara C. Putman, the award-winning author of 19 books, graduated high school at 16, college at 20, and completed her law degree at 27. FIRST for Women magazine called Shadowed by Grace “captivating” and a “novel with ‘the works.’” Cara is active at her church and a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. Putman is currently pursuing her Master’s in Business Administration at Krannert. She serves on the executive board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization she has served in various roles since 2007. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.
Sarah Sundin is the author of six historical novels, including In Perfect Time (Revell, August 2014), plus a novella in Where Treetops Glisten (WaterBrook, September 2014). Her novel On Distant Shores was a double finalist for the 2014 Golden Scroll Awards. In 2011, Sarah received the Writer of the Year Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children, and she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies. You can find her at
USA Today best-selling author Tricia Goyer is the author of 45 books, including the three-book Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series. She has written over 500 articles for national publications and blogs for high traffic sites like TheBetterMom.com and MomLifeToday.com. Tricia and her husband John live in Little Rock, Arkansas. They have six amazing children, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and two adorable grandchildren.
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