Off the Rails

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by Andy Scheer

Even spine out, the book caught my attention. Murder Rides the Super Chief (title changed) promised to press three of my hot-buttons: a historical cozy on a cross-country train trip.

That got me through the opening chapter. But I kept wondering when the story would start. And why the author was detailing every facet of California life in the winter of 1952.

Things didn’t get any better when the heroine boarded. Starting with the engine, the author described the furnishings and features of each car.

Finally I learned why she was traveling to Chicago: She was a railroad employee. (Why didn’t the author include that in chapter one?)

It turns out, she was the train’s hostess. And readers had to watch over her shoulder as she welcomed every passenger and directed each to their car. Super Chief 250

Every passenger.

Not just the obligatory colorful characters. Ordinary ones. All of them.

I jumped off the train.

If I ever wondered why writing teachers say fiction is life with the dull parts removed, I’ve seen the alternative. Likewise, I’ve seen why novels should begin in the middle of the action. And why your research and backstory should be sprinkled as spice, not spread as gravy, unless you want even the most eager reader to close the book.

Are you tempted to break a basic rule of contemporary fiction? You’d better have good reason — and know what you’re doing.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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