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Blog: This Writing Life


Writing Your Chapter Book #ChaBooCha

This post first appeared on the Chapter Book Challenge blog.

If it’s March – it must be Chapter Book Challenge 2020! I have written several posts for the Chapter Book Challenge, including Working Your Way Through Chapter Book Challenge 2017, How to Start Writing Your Chapter Book, How to Write a Chapter Book Series, and Brainstorming Ideas.  

In this post, I will offer some strategies for brainstorming, researching, and drafting your chapter book this month. Ready, set, CHABOOCHA! 

Determine the Book’s World – Brainstorm some specifics about the setting of your story’s world. Is it fiction? Are there non-fiction or historical elements? What are the rules in this world? How does it all work? Writing reference points for your story setting will enable you to remain true to your story’s world, and offer enriching details in your chapter book. 

Draft a Character Study – Know as much as possible about your characters before you write. What are their likes, dislikes, and goals? What are their favorite foods, games, books, movies, and friends? What are their quirks, fears, and embarrassments? How do they speak and relate to each other? Before I start writing, I do a character sketch and interview each main character. As I write, I refer back to these notes to ensure that my characters are interesting, relatable, and consistent throughout my books. 

For example, in my chapter book series THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION, Simon loves games, especially cards, food, and adventure. His twin sister Emma loves solving puzzles, chatting with people, and taking chances. They both love Molly, their grandmother’s dog. I use these characteristics and more as I draft scenes and dialogue. 

Plot Your Plot – Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. What obstacles will your characters face? How will they overcome those obstacles? What growth will take place during the story, both in the characters’ external journeys and also their internal journeys? Also, what themes are your including in your story? Think about how your plot and themes will resonate with young readers. 

Research – While my chapter book series is fiction, the stories also include historical elements. If possible, I visit the locations where the books take place. For example, when working on the first book in the series, RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, I visited Coney Island and the famous Cyclone roller coaster (but didn’t ride!). I also visited the Liberty Bell while writing THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, the second book in the series (releasing soon!). Recently, I travelled to Washington, D.C. to research at the Library of Congress while working on the third book in the series which is set there. 

If you can’t research in person, you can also research online. Book Two of my series also takes place in San Francisco, which I didn’t visit, but I did extensive research online using Google Maps,, the U.S. National Archives online, and other sources. 

Outline Your Story – I start each book in my series with an outline of ten chapters, assuming each chapter will be roughly 500 words each. Even of you don’t normally outline, it might be helpful. As long as I have a detailed outline (which I often revise as I go along), I know that I’m headed in the right direction. 

Sit Down and Write – I usually start writing chapter one first, but when I move toward the middle of the story, I find that sometimes it’s easier to write the chapters out of order. Make sure you have page-turning transitions between chapters so the reader will keep reading, and enough action to move the story forward. I often put my chapter book project away between chapters so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. As I move along, I always think about setting, characters, plot, and themes, and I use my research and my outline to write. 

I hope this is a helpful framework in which to approach your chapter book project during the Chapter Book Challenge this month. 

Cheers to creativity! 


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