Chapter by Chapter Outline – Outlining: Stage 5

You sketched your outline. You asked yourself a great many questions. Now, it’s time to refine your sketch into a chapter-by-chapter projection of your novel. Wait! Don’t I mean scene-by-scene? That’s what most writers say, right? You start with the scenes and then work those scenes into chapters.

Sure, you could do it that way. But, if you take my advice, you won’t. I tried coming up with scenes and turning them into chapters; what I came up was less “scene” and more, well, something else.

See, every chapter needs a purpose. Each chapter should move your story at least one step further from your beginning and closer to your end. And, in case that wasn’t explicit enough, further from your beginning should be closer to your end. It’s this whole “muddle of the middle” thing. One point in outlining is avoiding that muddly-puddly part, which, in my opinion, makes for a much better story. (This is not to suggest that characters should progress in linear fashion—misdirection and being wrong is vital, too.)

This stage of outlining requires you to discover the tentative purpose of each chapter. The original purpose you imbue may need refinement, and that’s okay, but, for starters, you need a chapter and you need a purpose.

Your beginning chapters provide readers with introductions to your characters, your setting, your theme, and, of course, your problems. You may start with a sub-plot or the main plot—that doesn’t matter so much. What matters is that your characters need problems and your readers want a taste of those problems from the get-go.

From there, you need your characters to react/respond to what’s going on in your story. These reactions and responses are the stuff of scenes, but those reactions and responses also have to drive the story, which brings us back to chapters having purposes. A single scene may unfold over multiple chapters; a chapter may contain portions of multiple scenes. But, the scenes or portions of scenes that are included in each chapter need to achieve a purpose.

The reactions and responses must drive the story to a climax. This is the point where the character(s) face the “final” conflict that will resolve the story—or, at least, turn the tide in a significant way. Then, once the climax is achieved, there’s the clean-up period where those loose ends that are going to be tied shall be tied, which may involve minor post-climax conflicts.

So, I recommend you include the following details in each chapter summary:

  • Purpose of the chapter
  • Point of view
  • Characters
  • Settings
  • Conflicts
  • Plot Points
  • Thematic significance
  • Any significant details you know ahead of time

Use an index card. Write in pencil. Number your cards in the order that seems right at the time. Don’t worry about what you don’t know yet. Stage 6 will help you refine your cards and prepare you for that scene-by-scene bit.

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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