Posted by: nancyisanders | September 2, 2011

Middle Grade Novel: Plot Outline

I’m enjoying giving you a peek into this process I’m taking as I’m writing a new middle grade novel. I’m sharing what works for me, but by all means, adjust this to what works for YOU!

The main reason I decided to use THE WHIPPING BOY as a model for this new middle grade novel is because it’s SIMPLE!!! It’s got a very basic plot:

Jemmy wants to quit being a whipping boy and go back to his life hunting rats in the sewers.

Jemmy and Prince Brat get kidnapped by two thieves. They escape and along the way, become friends. By the end of the story, the prince doesn’t need a whipping boy any longer, and Jemmy returns to the castle as the prince’s friend.

There are just a few subplots going on, but it’s a very basic plot!

So, here’s what I did to help me plan my main plot and simple subplots from all the brainstorming notes I’ve been jotting down in my spiral notebook.

I made a Chapter-by-Chapter Plot Outline chart.

Then I started to plot the action from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20 on my chart. (The Whipping Boy has 20 chapters in it, so I want mine to have 20 chapters, too.)

I’m using this chart to make sure every single chapter has some exciting thing going on to influence my main plot.

So I’ve been writing my story as I’m working on my plot. So far, I’ve written 3 chapters.

And today I sat down and started to plug in THE WHIPPING BOY’s main plot and subplots on my chart so I can see how Fleischman made each chapter count.

I also sat down and wrote out on a separate piece of paper what the plot was in each chapter of THE WHIPPING BOY from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20. Just a simple one liner for each chapter. This activity REALLY helped me get a better grasp of how SIMPLE the plot in my MG novel can be.

If you’d like to use the Chapter-by-Chapter Plot Outline chart I developed, you can download a blank one-page version. (Just write simple words or phrases on here to see your plot at a glance.) I’ll be explaining more about how to use this chart in my upcoming posts.

MG Plot Outline

Or, if you want to use a chart with more space to write fuller details on, you can download my two-page version and tape them together side by side.

MG Plot Outline long a

MG Plot Outline long b

And if you want to see how I am starting to plug in the plot for THE WHIPPING BOY on the one-page version, you can download that, too.

Have fun! And remember…keep this SIMPLE! There are plenty of times you can wade through writing a complex middle-grade novel. I did when I wrote my new book A Dangerous Search. It was so complex, and involved such intense research, it took me a year to write. But for this project, I want to experiment writing like the Newbery award-winning novel, THE WHIPPING BOY. Simple is the name of the game.

Save Your Time Track: For writers with limited time
Just start plotting your chapter-by-chapter action sequences on the chart.

Take Your Time Track: For writers who have the time to maximize the journey
On the computer or in your spiral notebook, write out the one sentence plot for every chapter of THE WHIPPING BOY. Use my chart to create a plot chart for THE WHIPPING BOY. Use this as a model to plot your own novel’s structure.


  1. Thank you for the awesome outlines! They seem to make plotting simple and fun.
    Finished reading both novels but still waiting for the “how to plot” book to come through the mail. In the mean time, I’m reading The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom (Writer’s Digest Books).

  2. Hi Nancy:

    Your provide the best information! Thank you for sharing your process, much appreciated.

    Award-winning Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
    Donna M. McDine’s Website

  3. I’m not planning to write a MG, but I still love to read your blog, Nancy. You have such a gift for helping authors see how to travel this writing journey.

  4. I have been writting but not yet on my middle grade book! I read three french books and thought only one of them was well writtent to my taste!
    I found another way to write a middle grade book: I took a story I wrote for a picture book of 12 double pages, and decided to extend each previous page to a kind of chapter.. It helps me because I am not good at all at making plans…I tried to write 1000 words for each chapter…
    At the same time I think a lot about the middle grade book I am going to write. I believe our subconcious mind works really good for us!
    and of course i read and re-read your blog!

    • What a great idea, Nicole! To plan out a story like a picture book and then flesh it out to be a novel. I love this concept!!!

  5. Hi Nancy,

    Thank you so much for sharing your plotting sheet with us. I printed it off and will be using it in future.

    ~ Irene

  6. This is the kind of stuff we need to understand the process. I´d like to see more of this.

  7. When I taught 4th grade, I did a unit on The Whipping Boy because it had great examples of figurative language, but mainly because it appealed to both boy and girl students. One thing I’ve noticed about newer MG novels is they are much longer. Two of the award winning MG books I used (the other was Sarah Plain and Tall) had word counts that are a third or less of anything being published today. I truly think there’s a need out there for this length of novel, especially for reluctant readers.

    • Great thoughts! Thanks so much for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: