August 25, 2014
What is a Chapter Outline?
If you’re like me when you first started writing, you probably thought a chapter outline, which some editors request with the proposal, was Roman numerals I, II, III each with the subpoints of A.,B., and C. And if you’re like me, once you were in the writing /publishing world for any length of time, you discovered that a chapter outline is nothing like the outline you wrote for English class in high school.
To put it simply, a chapter outline is a brief summary, maybe one to three short paragraphs per chapter, explaining in third person your story’s main characters and plot. If you know how to write a good newspaper article, then you’ll do a good job writing your chapter outline.
A good chapter outline should include:
1. The names of your main characters
2. The setting and time frame
3. A summary of each chapter (as far as you’ve written if you haven’t completed the book yet)
4. If possible, (and the editor might request this), the outline for the final chapter
A good chapter outline should not include:
2. Detailed descriptions of your main characters
3. Your opinions
4. Questions for the editor
To give you an idea of what a chapter outline should be, here’s a sample of one of mine. I’ve included only the first three chapters of twelve in the book:
By Marsha Hubler
Dallis Parker is a thirteen-year-old tomboy who loves horses more than anything else in the world. However, she fell off a pony when she was six, breaking her leg in three places. Since then she walks with a brace and a limp. Because of her bad leg, Dallis has a poor self-image, is withdrawn, and does not make friends easily. Dallis’s parents will not allow her to be around horses, let alone own one. Yet, she has never given up her dream to have a horse again someday. Much of her time is spent dreaming about a white stallion named Snow who leads a herd of mustangs in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
Living in farm country, Dallis raises chickens and shows them at 4-H Club. Her only friend, Sheila Elliot, is an African American girl who lives with adoptive parents on the farm next to the Parker farm. Sheila is also a member of 4-H and raises lambs. Matthew Spencer is an eighth grade boy whom Dallis has had a crush on for years. A member of 4-H, he shows his champion quarter horse, Scrabble. Unfortunately, two other members of 4-H, Jane Dowling and Courtney Fulmer, who also show horses, dislike Dallis and belittle her constantly.
Sheila invites Dallis to go to a youth group meeting one Friday evening in the fall. Dallis is reluctant to go because she’ll be forced to mingle with kids she doesn’t know. But when she finds out Matthew will be there, she sets out to gain permission to go.
At the youth group meeting, Dallis focuses on one person, Matthew Spencer. She ignores the events of the evening, studying him and resenting Jane and Courtney who latch unto him all night long. Near the close of the meeting, Dallis finally tunes in to Mr. Markham, the youth group leader, when he announces that the group will be going on a four-day survival camping trip to the Pocono Mountains in December. One of the reasons for the trip is to look for Snow, a “phantom” white stallion, supposedly the leader of a small band of wild Mustangs that roam the Shamokin State Park. When Dallis hears about the horse and learns that Matthew is going on the trip, she makes up her mind that she is going too.
Dallis is overwhelmed with the beauty and excitement of Camp Icy Maples with all its activities to enjoy in new-fallen snow. There are eleven youth groups with over a hundred teens at the camp. However, she’s more interested in a certain young man who, as usual, is constantly smothered by Jane and Courtney. Dallis faces new ugly feelings about the two girls, feelings of jealousy, which she doesn’t like at all.
The first night of activities, while her youth group goes sledding, Dallis sits alone at a pavilion watching kids build snowmen and ice skate on a large pond. Even though others have invited her to join their activities, she chooses to wallow in self-pity and watch the fun from afar.But as she hobbles toward the gymnatorium for hot chocolate, Matthew joins her. As they walk together, they share their excitement about the next two days when the group goes to survival camp, looking for the white stallion.
So there you have a sample of a chapter outline. For those of you who fly by the seat of your pants and you’re never sure what’s coming next, a chapter outline will be a very difficult task to accomplish. But if an editor from a prospective publisher wants one, then…well…