The truth is I hadn’t much experience dissecting chapter books until I started writing them. I’m not sure if any other authors go through the same process when they first start writing. With The Smith Family Secret, I thought for sure I had a middle grade on my hands. Nope! Turns out it was a chapter book. I found this out from going to my critique group. Cool! But, how to go about making sure my book fit in with all of the other chapter books out there? I started looking for commonalities. How many chapters did other chapter books have? What about the word count? Common plot points?
What I came up with was Blueprint #1 below. It seemed generic enough to work with almost any story and keep a novice like myself on track. I decided to take a look at a few more series chapter books as well and check out the variations. Here are three different chapter book blueprints, gleaned from my research, that have been helpful for me.
Blueprint # 1
In a nutshell: 6 Chapters, 5000 words, 80 pages
- Conflict, Conflict builds and builds and builds, Climax with possible twist, Resolution
Chapter by Chapter
1 – Exposition
2 – Someone needs help, something goes missing, something goes wrong
3 – Conflict introduced and builds
4 – Problem gets bigger
5 – Final build up of conflict leading to story’s climax. Final plan established for solving the initial problem. Possible twist.
6 – Resolution. Will they succeed or won’t they? Everything gets solved, very exciting, and everything gets wrapped up in a nice bow.
Blueprint # 2
In a nutshell: 7 to 9 Chapters, 4500 to 7500 words, 90 pages
- Conflict introduced, gets worse, protagonist wants to give up, uses first conflict to solve another conflict, Both conflicts resolved
Chapter by Chapter
1 – Exposition, Complication Revealed
2 – Gathering Research, Bad News
3 – Trying to go about as usual, Conflict arises
4 – Conflict escalates
5 – Ready to give up
6 – New conflict arises, unrelated to first conflict
7 – Protagonist uses first conflict to solve the second conflict
8 – Everything works out in the end
Blueprint # 3
In a nutshell: 10 Chapters, About 13,500 words, 121 Pages
- Conflict revealed, Make plan, Plan fails, Conflict worse than before, Escape, Regroup, Conflict comes back, Choice to make, Resolution
Chapter by Chapter
1 – Immediate Action, Quick Exposition, Imminent Conflict Reveal
2 – Coming up with a plan
3 – Research, Figuring out Part of a Puzzle
4 – Putting the plan into action
5 – Plan fails, The conflict gets really crazy, Confronted head on with Conflict
6 – The purpose of the antagonist revealed, Worse than everyone thought, RUN!
7 – The Escape
8 – Regrouping, New Plan
9 – Everything goes wrong and the Worst Conflict of all shows up
10 – Climax comes to a head, Protagonists need to make a big choice, Resolution
I am not saying that everyone must use a formula for writing, but movies do it all the time, and really it boils down to that fancy chart we learned about in middle school.
I’ve read that some authors map out entire plots chapter by chapter before they start writing. I can usually only plot a few chapters in advance. Using a plot structure like this while writing The Smith Family Secret helps me stay on track.
How do you work? Would using a plot blueprint work for you, or do you prefer letting it unfold as the story progresses? Share your thoughts with the Writers’ Rumpus!
So You Want to Write a Series Guest Post by Anna Staniszewski: Advice on continuity, revisions, and maintaining arcs across multiple titles.
How to Research KidLit at the AR Quiz Store by Marianne Knowles: Finding stats on word count, page count, reading level, and more for thousands of published kids’ books.