Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Creating An Editorial Road Map

STATUS: I’ll be out of the office all next week for the RT Convention in Chicago. Wait, wasn’t I just out of town?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PYRO by Kings of Leon

More and more as of late, I find myself creating what I call an editorial road map for any novel.

Now, when I edit a client manuscript, I use track changes to make comments as I read along. That’s pretty standard

But lately, after I finish the entire read, I then go back through the novel to construct the road map. In this process, I literally skim through the work, chapter by chapter, and I create an outline of all the major plot points by chapter for the novel.

I find that the process of formulating the outline allows me to create a framework for writing up my editorial letter.

Via the outline, I can clearly point out what works, what doesn’t work, where it should build tension or escalate the stakes, what could be deleted to tightened or even if the story has gone off the rails completely.

It’s definitely more work on my part but I think it a valuable exercise. In fact, my “road map” critiques are becoming a bit legendary with my clients. *grin* They love it (or maybe they are too afraid to say otherwise!)

And to be blunt, from a lot of the sample pages and full manuscripts I’ve read within the last 6 months, I think many writers could benefit from doing a critique road map of their own. It really does force you to ignore character, dialogue, description and boil the story down to its plot skeleton core.

A lot can be revealed about pacing and story arc.

Hum…. I’m sensing there may be a workshop idea here.

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24 Responses

  1. Marie Andreas said:

    I’m sensing a wonderful workshop idea there!

    As I read your post I was thinking, ‘And? How do I do this?!!’

    Great post and I hope you do a workshop of it :). Have a great time at RT!

  2. A W Exley said:

    YES! I a workshop or at the very least some kind of “how to” blog post please.

    As an unpublished author I value any opportunity to see my plot with new eyes and to learn a new skill that will aid my writing 🙂

  3. Wendy Delfosse said:

    When I did a rewrite on a story I really loved but that needed major work I created an outline for it before beginning on a new document. I used a very basic plot arc and then expanded it accordingly. (I liked using the numbered list function on Microsoft Word where it’s easy to add things before and after and have different levels.) It helped so much for staying focused on the plot. Also helpful was planning a preliminary one-sentence pitch that got to the heart of my conflict so I could make sure it all went back to that.

  4. Carmen said:

    Workshop = win. In the meantime, I recommend STORY ENGINEERING, by Larry Brooks. If I ever see publication or sell a spec script, it will be thanks to that book teaching me to see and love the structure.

  5. Bonnee Crawford said:

    I think a lot of problems we’d find in a manuscript could be eliminated by making a detailed plan and thinking about the pace and story arcs before we actually start the writing. Conducting your idea at the end would be like double checking, so even better again! Definitely a good idea, thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. Loralie Hall said:

    I would take that workshop.

    This is something I’m trying to learn to do, but I find myself stumbling. I think it’s a fantastic idea though to see how an entire finished story stacks up in a brief overview.

  7. Brent Stratford said:

    I write from an outline to make sure I am covering all the important parts of the plot and foreshadowing appropriately. Of course things change a little as rewriting occurs. What I find is that I need more in what I call “bridging chapters” than I expect. A bridging chapter for me is one that has internal conflict and ties together the heavy action in the external conflict chapters. They set the stage, describing the world, and revealing the characters. These chapters are chock full of information but sometimes bog the story down too much. The outline helps me find ways to keep up the pace or even redistribute the information in my “bridging chapters”

  8. Sara said:

    I had a rejection that commented on pacing which spurred me to create a roadmap. I write the scene, the GMC of it, and lay it all out. It’s easier to manipulate when everything is right there in front of you.

  9. Patchi said:

    Here’s another vote for the workshop. I think I made a roadmap when I wrote my synopsis, but I’m sure it was not as thorough as it could have been.

  10. Janea S said:

    I actually already do this as a writer, and I’ve really enjoyed the results. It lets me so how the chapter needs to work in relationship to everything else. What is ultimately it’s most important facet? What could be trimmed? It’s also helped me when I occasionally re-arrange pieces to re-pace the work.

  11. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I agree with Bonnee–it seems like it’d be a good double-check at the end if you are (or are working with) a writer who creates an extensive outline at the beginning. (I sure do.) It’d be interesting and very useful to compare how one planned the story and how the story turned out, and let you more easily determine how scenes relate to each other, whether all the subplots have been carried through to conclusion, and so on. A workshop would be nice!

  12. T.L. Bodine said:

    I do this as well, between the first and second draft. Since I’m a pantser, I often end up with scenes that are great but in the wrong place. So the first thing I do with a rough draft is skim over it and make a detailed outline of all the important things.

    Then I can edit the outline for structural problems. I can see where things need to be added or moved or taken away. Gives me a road map for the whole second draft.

  13. Aryn said:

    I like to do a plot board after the first draft. I use a giant posterboard for each act and have a grid for each scene. Then I use colored post-its to indicate plot points, turning points, romantic turning points, and other important elements. For example, with a mystery, you could a clue post-it to note where in the story the different clues fall.

    Then I step back and look at it. If I see a big gap in a certain color, I know that something is missing. It also helps me ensure that each scene has at least two purposes.

  14. Stephanie McGee said:

    It sounds like what I do with my books. After I’ve written the first draft and edited it a time or three for the major stuff I know in my head is there, I create a detailed outline for the book. Scene by scene and chapter by chapter I break it down, outlining characters, locations and events. Then I use that for the next revision because it just shows the skeleton without all the flesh. So helpful. The first time I did this, I ended up creating a new outline after I’d revised a couple more times to work off of since there were some major changes.

  15. Dawn Malone said:

    I recently did this on a big, white poster board. A bit primitive, yes, but it helps me to see the story all at once when I’m revising. I had a one-line summary for each chapter. If I need to move chapters around, it’s much easier for me to identify a chapter by that one line rather than scrolling through the entire document on my computer, looking for a certain section. It also helps me when it comes time to revise my synopsis.

  16. Ann Stewart said:

    I’m learning the joys (insert sarcasm) of outlining. While the process is enough to make me want to scream, I am seeing where my story is definitely going (and where it’s coming from). I think it is ultimately going to be very helpful in the final draft. It already showed me one area of the book that was simply there because it was a neat scene idea, not because it adds anything to the story. Yeah, that scene goes in the “I hope a situation comes up where it’s useful one day” pile. *sigh*

  17. Anonymous said:

    I desperately needed to read this!

    I haven’t been able to finish anything in years and just finished a new ms over the weekend. I’m having trouble contemplating how to even tackle it. Thanks for sharing an editing strategy!


  18. Fred said:

    What’s the difference between this kind of an outline, and a synopsis?
    Is it just because the outline is segmented per chapter?

  19. Cholisose said:

    This is a very interesting method you’re using! I’ve found it helpful as well to tackle my projects in an organized way. It helps maintain consistency for the novel, ensuring the whole story has just the right “feel” to it.

  20. Wm. Luke Everest said:

    This is a strong reminder of the importance of re-drafting. Every author does it differently. Paul McAuley once told me that, for him, the first draft was “an attempt to pin down the story.” It’s in later drafts that his work truly comes to life for the reader. For me, it depends on the story. Some like to write themselves, and re-drafting doesn’t alter all that much. For other’s though (he says glaring at certain punks in his “Writing” folder who know who they smegging well are) this editorial map sounds like a great idea.

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