Writing Excuses 7.15: Editing Mary’s Outline

One of the trials by fire that the other fellows on Writing Excuses have had to go through is the one wherein they critique an early work. We usually dig into stories, but I brought the outline of the first novel I wrote.

(Note: I am not counting the trunk novel that I started in high school, which starred my D&D character.)

The novel that they looked at is called Journey to the East and is about two American kids who get caught up in a Monkey King adventure. It’s Middle Grade fantasy. Some of you have heard me talk about the novel that got me started writing again. This is it.

I wrote it in 2003 when my brother moved to China with his kids. The kids were 10 and 13, so email exchanges weren’t realistic. Searching for a way stay connected with them, I decided to write a serial.

After about the third installment, I realized that I needed to write an outline so I had a clue about where I was headed. From there, I realized that I was writing a novel. While trying to figure out what to do with it, I started reading more about writing and publishing, which eventually lead to the short story career and then on to the novels I’m writing now.

Journey to the East has a lot of the classic first novel problems, so it’s pretty instructive to listen to Brandon, Dan, and Howard dig into it.

Mary Robinette Kowal graciously loaned us an outline she was working on in 2003. For this podcast, Mary reads from her outline, Brandon interrupts her, and we dissect. This is a brutal process. Know, fair listener, that we love Mary a lot.


I found the conversation about structure incredibly helpful and hope you do too. I’m also offering to let you look at the outline that we’re discussing. The things in square brackets are notes I jotted down while we were in the session.

Chapter SummariesWE

And here’s the first three chapters: Journey to the East Chapters 1-3

You can listen to the full episode and their critique at Writing Excuses 7.15: Editing Mary’s Outline » Writing Excuses. Next week, we tackle the second half of my outline.

And yes, someday I want to clean this up and try submitting it again. I like the story and I like the characters. I just need to fix the structure.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!

2 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.15: Editing Mary’s Outline”

  1. Trunk novel from a D&D character!  Interesting…at least two of my friends in my D&D group want to be writers.  I guess I shouldn’t discount the hope that eventually they’ll give up on space opera and come to the dark side of Regency fantasy 🙂

  2. Mary – a couple of quick things:
    First, good luck with the final push to finish prepping for the move (& tour)… I hope you’re able to find some moments of stopping to smell the roses so the whirlwhind doesn’t carry you away to Oz [the Botanic Gardens in Denver are nice if you have the time, or if it’s convenient to your stop :o) ]
    Second, thank you for this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about outlining and the creative process, and going back to a couple of my own stalled WIPs – ones that I had been trying to “pants” through but realize now they need some kind of outline work to improve the efforts. Having the list will help with following the comments in the episode and with considering my own outlines… looking forward to listening to it.

    Thanks, again!

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