Writing Wednesday – outlining OTHER authors’ books

Leslie’s desk

A writer I know recently got a rejection that hit her hard. Hard enough that she asked the editor for feedback, and though he said he didn’t usually do that — couldn’t, given the volume of submissions – he took a moment and summarized a couple of problems he saw. Then he suggested she do “very close reads” of 2-3 recent successful mysteries in her subgenre, watching particularly for how the authors handled the issues he’d identified. She asked me what I thought. Of course, I thought the editor had been very generous. As for his advice, I suggested this:

Take 2 or 3 recent mysteries that you’ve enjoyed and think are similar to what you’re trying to do. Read them again, then outline them, chapter by chapter, noting the day, time, and setting (“Mon morning, Pepper’s shop”), the POV character if it changes, and a few lines summarizing the action, as well as anything else that strikes you. Some writers use highlighters in the book itself, or use them to highlight elements in their summary. We all have an instinctive feel for structure and pacing in a story, but focusing on them in an outline will help us see them more clearly, and show us how better to convey them on the page. And if, like my friend, you’ve been alerted to a specific weakness, watch how the other authors handle similar situations.

I thought this editor’s comments may have been just the gift this other author needed. Maybe you need it too.