Chapter-by-Chapter Outlines


I classify myself as a sort-of pantser. What I mean is that I go in to a first draft with main characters, backstory, and a basic idea of the plot and maybe some research (if applicable). And then I go off into the chaos and fury of a first draft.

For whatever reason, I already know what I want endgame to be in this upcoming NaNo project. So, to stave off any urges to cheat and dive in to my first draft, I’m writing my outline. I started in my usual way. Setting: New York City, roughly this year, but could be next year. Characters: Emma, Ailey, Colin, Lily and some minor characters. Backstory: Emma’s family is political, she is not particularly politically-inclined. In fact, she’s agoraphobic. Colin’s an actor, the son of jobbing actors, and becoming a bit more well-known.

And then a weird thing happened. Because I decided on my NaNoWriMo project so early, I found myself thinking about my characters a lot. How did they meet? What were their impressions of each other? Then I started a chapter-by-chapter outline. I’m on Chapter 13 now. This is the first time I’ve actually done a chapter-by-chapter outline of anything I’ve written.

Not entirely true: I did a chapter-by-chapter thing for the very first incarnation of the Keegan Inheritance, back when I thought of it as a romance novel. But the descriptions were vague. For example:

Chapter 10: It is time for Madeline to call on Laura. Henry tells Madeline that the house belongs to a French spy. Madeline and Laura have an awkward visit. Louis comes home to find Laura saying good-bye to Madeline. 

Chapter 11 in the NaNo project looks like:
Susan, Lily’s mom, has been busy organizing Vivian’s house after the death. Vivian lived in a nice, suburban, smallish house near the Nassau/Queens border on the North Shore of the Long Island…The furniture and other stuff will have to be accounted for…Susan, Bob, and Emma’s dad decide what they want to keep. The kids get to work organizing the basement and the attic. Emma, Bryce, and Robin are in the basement. All they find are boxes of grandpa’s things, old Christmas decorations, broken stuff, old computer equipment. Bryce carries the boxes up.

It’s actually more detailed that that, but who knows what’ll change before November? I’m going for 80,000 words this year. I’ve already won NaNo twice with 50,000. Let’s up the ante a little. I hope that organizing my story beforehand will help me fix necessary things before I dive in to the madness of November.

Do you do chapter-by-chapter outlines? How detailed are they?

6 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Outlines

  1. Sadly for me, chapter-by-chapter outlines don't work. I've tried and when I'm done my little muse says, huh, already written the story, I'm bored. So I write very loose outlines – and I do mean loose. Only the high points and subplot tie-ins get much preparation. Other than that, nadda. I know where I'm going but not exactly how I'm going to get there. I like the mystery. Good luck with NaNo!


  2. Wow! That's pretty impressive. My outlines can't get that detailed without me writing bits of the story. My version of outlining is like your first example. Very basic. At most I go on for half a page, but that's usually only of I have very specific details that I don't want to forget. I do have a couple of more detailed outlines for a series idea that I have. I needed to work the plot out in my head, see if it would work. I actually write a lot faster if I start with an outline like that because I never have go slow down and figure out what's next. Hmm…decisions. Lol!


  3. I'm trying it out, seeing how it goes. Usually I'd say that my first draft is the outline because with the last project, I'm an exploratory writer. But then I never seem to know what the ending to any given story is and that annoys me!


  4. I'm trying to see if outlining it like this will help. It's the first time I've felt like outlining in so much detail without being absolutely bored to death. Hopefully November will go smoothly and I can try to carry over more detailed outlining on to my other projects, too. It would save me a lot of grief!


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