Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller on Collaborative Writing
Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller have been writing together for years, creating the world of Nightmares! for middle grade readers, and now – just released – the brand-new YA adventure (and the start of a new series), Otherworld. Here they tell us a little about their collaboration and how writing together works
How did the idea for Otherworld originate? What was your inspiration?
Our weird tastes overlap, and we feed off each other in fantastic and unexpected ways
JS: The idea for Otherworld came after I first demoed the Oculus Rift at Sundance a few years ago. My first thought was: This is going to change everything. I had been a big fan of a game called Myst when I was a kid—it’s a computer environment that you get to wander around, explore, and solve puzzles in. I imagined how extraordinary it would be to have that sort of experience in a truly immersive way. Then I thought, People will never want to leave. That’s sort of where it all began for me. I drew up a very rough outline and called Kirsten. I told her the idea, and our adventure began. If The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings went to their high school reunion and had a one-night stand, Otherworld would be their illegitimate child.
KM: My initial reaction to new technologies is to ask myself: What will go wrong? Call me a pessimist, but from what I’ve seen, something always does. Jason imagined a game that players never want to leave. Together, we took that idea to an extremely dark (and logical) conclusion. I suppose my biggest contribution was the sinister real-world conspiracy at the heart of the story. I do love a good conspiracy!
What’s it like writing as a team? Has your process evolved since beginning your collaboration on the Nightmares! series?
We each add to the project in different ways, which makes our books richer
JS: The first Nightmares! book was a very particular situation in that we were adapting an existing script. I know scripts, and Kirsten knows books, so it was really a match made in heaven for me. As we’ve progressed, the dynamic has really evolved. I brought a rough idea of Otherworld to Kirsten, and then she brought a whole world of life, depth, and specificity to it. Our weird tastes overlap, and we feed off each other in fantastic and unexpected ways. We essentially create a really detailed outline; then Kirsten takes a run at our first draft. We then hand the manuscript back and forth until we have created a funky masterpiece. I couldn’t do any of this without a tremendous amount of hard work from Kirsten.
KM: I’ve always said it’s the perfect partnership—and it has been from the very beginning. I enjoy world-building. (And conspiracies—did I mention that?) Jason is remarkably gifted at dialogue and detail work. He’s also really good at writing all the mushy scenes. (I prefer the bloody stuff.) But I think it’s what we share in common that makes the partnership work so well. We’re fascinated by similar things (we’ve spent a LOT of time talking about CRISPR), and we laugh at the same stupid jokes.
Top tips for collaborative writing
My top tip for collaborating in general is to always partner up with someone who is better than you. They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.
1. Make sure you like your partner as a human being. Writing is hard, and you’ll be spending a great deal of time with your collaborator. If you’re not having fun it’s going to be grueling work. One of the things that makes Jason and my partnership so fulfilling is the fact that we’re amused by all the same things. If I can write something that makes Jason laugh out loud, it will make my entire day.
2. Choose someone whose talents complement rather than duplicate your own. I’m quite good at world building and scene setting. Jason is great with dialogue, detail and emotion. We each add to the project in different ways, which makes our books richer.
3. Agree upfront on a division of labor. If you both try to do everything, a great deal of time and effort will be wasted. Concept together—then figure out who will write what and who will edit and embellish. Then spend a lot of time on the phone!
OTHERWORLD is out now, published by Rock the Boat in hardback, £12.99. Discover more about Otherworld on social media, using the tag #visitOtherworld to follow along the extract and review tour. You can also visit the new site: https://www.visitotherworld.com