Chapter Book Blueprints

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.

A classic literary plot diagram.
A classic literary plot diagram I use with my students in drama class.

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!

Related posts:
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.

10 comments

  1. Great post Alison. Although I work from a detailed outline I’ve never followed a blueprint quite like this. But I’m keen to roll this methodology in when I start my next book. Thanks!

    Like

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