For Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan each created a character with the same name. Levithan, who has a best friend named David Levithan, thought there might be a book in that and approached Green with the idea of a collaboration. Roughly a third of the way into their book, the two Will Graysons meet by pure chance. Green’s Will is straight, and Levithan’s will, who purposely spells his name with lower-case letters, is gay but not out. Tiny Cooper, whose nickname belies his giant size, is Will’s best friend. Tiny is openly gay and writing a high-school musical based on his life. Here, the authors discuss the book:
Did you each develop your own Will Grayson voice separately or together?
John Green: The only thing we discussed before we started writing was the name of the characters. David came up with the first name, and I came up with the second name. We also decided on where they would meet. That’s it. It’s not written like a traditional collaborative piece. When I was writing chapter one, David was writing chapter two. Then we’d read them to each other. Then I worked on chapter three, and he worked on chapter four. The stories got much more intertwined during years and years of revision.
David Levithan: The idea was we’d print them out and swap chapters. Since Sarah [Green’s wife] was in the room, we decided to read them aloud, mostly to entertain her. That ended up being my favorite part. To read our chapters to each other but not give each other copies.
Did you talk about how that initial conversation would go, when the two narrators meet?
JG: We talked about that more than we talked about anything else, and the overall shape of what we wanted to happen.
DL: The major reveals and the major directions the story takes in those chapters was not necessarily premeditated. We coordinated how and when they were going to be there and who else was going to be around. The same thing with the ending. We knew we were going to use Tiny’s musical as a climax, [but] John literally did not know what my last chapter was going to be until I read it out loud to him.
Did you confer about Tiny’s personality?
DL: I think it was more that Tiny changed while we were writing the book. It was clear from the moment I heard John’s first chapter that Tiny would be a huge part of the book. Rarely do you get to see the perspective from someone who’s been friends for so long, and then the point of view of someone who’s just met him.
JG: I knew it would be important for Tiny to be visible through David’s will grayson. That was the only way that the story would be more complex—not always seeing Tiny in the context of the friendship with my Will.
Did you each write the lyrics in your own chapters to Tiny’s musical?
JG: I’ve been making up and singing stupid musical lyrics since I was a kid. I don’t even remember how the idea started that Tiny would try to have a musical, but I’m very grateful that David is such a good lyricist because all I can do is write funny lines.
DL: The lyrics exist mostly so that when I was reading these aloud to John I would make him laugh.
JG: We really wanted it to be funny. It is about pain and pathos, but it also makes me laugh. I think it’s underappreciated how funny people in pain are.
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Will Grayson, Will Grayson
John Green and David Levithan
Dutton / April / 9780525421580 / $17.99 / 14 & up