Author Guest Post: M.H. Mead

A Total Greater Than the Sum 
by Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion

How in the world do a man and a woman write a novel together? Hardly anyone asks us how we create characters, or how we think up our plots, or details of how we published our novel. What everyone wants to know is how we do it.

There are as many ways to collaborate as there are collaborators. Some take turns writing chapters one by one until the book is done. Others sit in the same room and write every word together. Sometimes a newer writer comes up with the concept and writes the first draft, and then a more established writer fixes the rough spots and sends it out with both names attached. (Known as the coattails approach.)

When we collaborate, we write the most important part first—the outline. This is crucial to keep either party from going off on any wild tangents. Once the outline is set, we decide who will write which part of the rough draft. Harry will say, “The scene where Morris’ house blows up? I know exactly how that goes.” Or Margaret will say, “Morris knocking on Aidra’s door in the middle of the night? Yeah, that one is mine.”

We email each other new chapters every few days or weeks. It takes a huge amount of trust, but we’ve been doing this long enough that we know the other person will come through. And if not, let the teasing and shaming commence! We may tease each other about output, but never about content. We both understand that rough draft is just that—rough.

Then comes the fun part. Editing is where we really put in the hours. You would think that a collaborative novel would take half the time of a solo effort, but in reality, it takes far longer. Every chapter gets at least two passes from each of us. The first time, we are editing for content. Even with an outline, things can go wrong. At one point, we had Morris following Aidra to a shopping mall. In later drafts, we realized that someone who is agoraphobic would never go there, so we had to rip out several chapters and rewrite them.

The second time through, we are editing for consistency of voice. Even though we like to joke that we share a brain, we don’t always see things the exact same way. Harry has had to point out places where our hero sounded too girly, and Margaret has had to help Harry write from a woman’s point of view. Even more subtle issues came up in the writing. For example, the idea of disappearing into the virtual world sounded just fine to Harry, but a body slumped helpless in a chair while his mind was in the electronic universe creeped Margaret out. Having a partner to talk through issues with helps both of us see things more clearly.

Do we argue? Yes, sometimes. But we usually let the person who feels most strongly about the issue get their way. Other times, we find a compromise that pleases us both. For example, Margaret wanted to put Morris’ house in Detroit. Harry wanted him to live much farther away. In the end, we set his house in Monroe, a suburb halfway between Detroit and Toledo—close enough for Margaret, far enough for Harry. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the book.

So, how do we know when we’re done? Reading the final draft, we honestly can’t remember who wrote what part. All we know is, we have something better than either of us could have written alone.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for hosting us today! Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campionwriting together as M.H. Mead

    Reply

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