Dynamic Duo: Co-Writing and How to Achieve Artistic Success with Your Writing Partner (Part 1)

Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Webber and Rice. Historically, musical theatre has had its fair share of songwriting duos whose names have audiences lining up around the block to witness the genius of their partnerships onstage. It’s an understatement to say that writing for musical theatre (and theatre in general) is no small feat, especially when you’re co-writing. As one half of a writing team, I’ve written a handful of scripts with my writing partner for both film and theatre. While our styles of writing are very different, we always manage to find a balance that threads our scenes together to create a singular vision. In this two-part blog series, I’m sharing lessons from my experience working as a co-writer and how to strengthen your dynamic as a team. 

1. Be Honest with Each Other

(Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons)

(Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons)

If something your co-writer wrote does not make sense, tell them. If he/she wrote something that you aren’t keen on, tell them. It’s best to be upfront and honest from the get-go for many reasons. First, it avoids obstacles that might arise later on. There will nothing more stressful than rewriting something during tech week just because someone did not speak up about an issue sooner. Secondly, it’ll help build trust within your partnership. If you’re honest with your partner, then they will feel comfortable being honest with you. Remember, this project is important to both of you, and everyone is writing what they think is best for the script. I usually find when it comes to feedback, it’s productive (and less negative) to pose your feedback in the form of a question (ex. “I think I’m unclear about this point in Scene 3. Can you explain what the character means when they said this line of dialogue?”). 

2. It’s Okay to Write Apart

Whenever I write something with my co-writer, we usually find that we work better when we’re in the same room. Living in different cities doesn’t always make that possible. When we can’t get together, we divide up scenes and then send them to each other for feedback. It’s not always ideal, but it keeps the project moving and we’re grown accustomed to this method. One of the benefits of writing apart is that it works around your schedule. If you both have day jobs, meeting at a studio or the library for an afternoon session might not always be plausible. At least this way, you can both write on your own time.

3. If a Scene Isn’t Working, Read it Out Loud to Each Other

One of the best things about having a co-writer is that you also have a scene partner too. One tried-and-true writers’ tip is to read your script aloud. Dialogue sounds very different on paper than it does when it’s performed. Even if you’re reading the text aloud to yourself, you might be missing out on really hearing the tone and texture of your words. Having a voice different from your own is extremely beneficial to working out the kinks of a scene – and who better to read with than the only other person who knows the script as well as you do?

In my next blog post, I will share three more tips for how to create a dynamic partnership with your writing mate and what to do when you both have writer’s block.

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