Seven Plots for Seven Writers
by Mary Ellen Stepanich, Ph.D.
One of my favorite musicals has always been the film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (MGM, 1954). Not only is the music perfect, but also the dancing is spectacular and the mountain scenery is breathtaking. Although each brother is different (in looks, temperament, and talent), his objective is singular – find a girl to love and make her his bride.
A little over three years ago, I was part of a group of seven writers – we call ourselves L.S. McFan (an anagram of our initials) – who decided to write a book together. We drew lots to see who would write the first chapter and then who would follow, writing one chapter at a time, one month at a time, one after the other. I think when we began, we didn’t see beyond seven chapters. But we were a lot like the seven brothers in the movie, in that we each had different looks, temperament, and talent.
Apparently, each of the seven writers also had a different plot in mind. Some wrote the heroine as wimpy and clingy, while others wrote her as strong and single-minded. Some wanted a romantic hero; others wanted the leading man to waste no time on lovemaking and simply get on with saving the world from disaster. The differing points of view also showed up when one writer portrayed the heroine’s brother as short and younger, but someone else wrote him as tall and older.
Now, 49 chapters later, we’ve decided it’s time to finish the thing, so we took one final walk-through of the book, editing for continuity and clarity. Trouble in River City!! Some writers hadn’t read through the entire book before writing their chapters, and they positioned certain characters in one place without realizing they were situated in a different locale in a prior chapter. So the editing and rewriting has become a formidable task.
Another task that is nearly impossible to accomplish with seven writers is choosing a title and a book cover design. I suggested we each submit our favorite titles, then all vote on the entire list, choosing our top five favorites. The title with the most votes would be the obvious choice (or so I thought!). No, that didn’t work, because the chosen title wasn’t one or two of the writers’ first choice, and they were vocal about it. The same problem occurred with the cover design – some liked it, some didn’t, and some simply suffered (but not in silence).
As a former professor of organizational behavior, I used all of my expertise attempting to achieve consensus, or at least acceptance, from all seven writers. So far, consensus (even grudging acceptance) is not forthcoming. Therefore, the only wisdom I can impart to readers of this blog is this: Never agree to write or publish anything in collaboration with six other writers. The inevitable result is disagreement, and possibly ruined friendships.
And I would be very careful walking in strange places after dark.
Dr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website, MaryEllenStepanich.com.