March 05, 2009

Writing Tip 18 - Grabenstein: Outline

Today's writing tip from Agatha-nominated author Chris Grabenstein involves a valuable research method that every writer has done, or maybe should do.

Writing Tip 18: Outline

"My favorite tip comes from Lawrence Block's TELL LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, a collection of his essays for Writer's Digest," says Chris Grabenstein, author of WHACK A MOLE and the young adult novel, THE CROSSROADS, a 2009 Agatha Award nominee. "He suggests that you find a book you really like, maybe one like you want to write. Then outline it.

"Don't just read the book (okay, maybe once for fun) - go through it with a yellow legal pad at your side and chart out what the writer is doing in each chapter.

"I remember doing this with a Tess Gerritsen book when I wanted to try to write a thriller. Tess is a master at getting a lot of stuff going at once. And then I discovered the flow that was helping propel her story forward.

"I guess it's the old expression: read like a writer. Analyze the technique, strip the piece down to its blueprint. Once you know the skeleton, you can dress it up with your own fascinating characters and sizzling prose."

** In THE CROSSROADS, Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father's hometown in Connecticut, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took forty innocent lives. He died when his car hit a tree in a fiery crash, and his malevolent spirit has inhabited the tree ever since. During a huge storm, lightning hits the tree, releasing the spirit, who decides his evil spree isn't over, and Zack is directly in his sights!

** Your Turn: Who is your favorite author that you've studied or learned from when you began writing?


  1. I never thought about outlining a book I was reading for pleasure but it makes such good sense. There are many authors out there I admire and read, but two of my favorites are Stephen King and Jodi Picoult.

  2. Nice to see my two favorite writers named Chris hanging out!



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