Last year, I decided that I wanted to write a chapter book mystery series. The problem was I didn’t know how chapter book mysteries were structured.
Before I started writing, I read over 20 books from different mystery series. Every time I read another book, I paid special attention to how it was similar to other books within the same series, and I also compared it to trends I had found in other mystery chapter book series. It was a time-consuming process, but it paid off when it came to outlining the first book in my mystery series and editing the rough draft into a polished version.
Below is an exercise I did that I recommend to anyone who wants to get a better grasp on the established beats for books in a specific genre.
- Read a book in the genre you want to write. (I think this exercise works best when done with a book that you have not read before.)
- Read chapter one.
- Write down what you know about the protagonist.
- Write down what you know about the antagonist. (The antagonist might not be a person. It could be an organization, a weather phenomenon, etc.)
- Write down the information which you think will be important in the rest of the book.
- Write down the names of characters who were introduced in this chapter and their relationship to the protagonist.
- Write down what you think the main conflict will be for the book.
- Write down any major events that occurred in this chapter.
- Read chapter two.
- Write down the same information that you did for chapter one.
- Write down any additional plot information.
- Be sure to note if the protagonist attempted something in this chapter along with whether he/she succeeded or failed.
- Continue doing this for each chapter. (If you hand write your notes, I recommend having a separate piece of paper for each chapter.)
- Once you’ve finished the book, go back and find the beats.
- In which chapter was the conflict introduced?
- In which chapter did the climax take place?
- At what point(s) in the book did the protagonist fail or hit a setback?
- Now, read a second book in your writing genre and repeat the exercise you did with the first book. (Subsequent books can be ones you have read before or books that are new to you.)
- Compare the two book outlines. Which beats were the same and which ones were different? (If you repeat this process with a third book, you will start to see the pattern for the genre emerge.)
- Use this pattern to guide your outline for your own book in this genre. (I recommend reading no less than five books, 10-20 is better, in the genre you want to write before you start writing your own book.)