Why Do a Chapter Summary?
One of the first things you should do after writing a novel is read for plot holes. This can be really hard as editors of our own work because our mind fills in holes for us. Outlining your novel with a chapter summary after you have written it will help you find plot holes, character discrepancies and setting disparity. Even if you plotted before you wrote the story, you should take the time to outline what you actually wrote, which could be wildly different than what you had in mind, especially if you wrote much of your manuscript during sprints.
A Chapter Summary is a brief description of each chapter. As you read and focus on just one chapter at a time, you might be able to see where you missed important details. You can also make sure you understand the purpose of each chapter. Sometimes when we are sprinting, or even when we are taking our time and writing with intent, we add information that doesn't lead the story forward. Doing a chapter outline is a good chance to examine each chapter to determine, "Is it necessary?"
Days 3 - 7 are activities you can do in tandem with each other. Focus on understanding the steps you need to complete for today's outlining by working through Chapter One. If you have time after reading through your first chapter, go to Day 6 and begin that exercise.
As with the other outlines, today's process should be about creating today's worksheet and understanding how to use it rather than reading through the whole story and completing the outline as a single task. This is because you can read through each chapter and complete the various outlines all together and save yourself some time rather than reading through your story three or four times in a row.
Remember, this is a fact-finding mission. You are analyzing what you actually wrote, not remembering off the top of your head what you intended to write.
Exercise: Complete the Chapter Summary Worksheet
If you are creating your notes in your OneNote Novel Editing notebook, follow these steps to complete the exercise:
Chapter Summary Parameters
Chapter - Put the chapter number or a very short description. If you have very long chapters, you may wish to use scenes instead.
Description - Condense the chapter into a few sentences. Included in your notes should be a mention of purpose. Define why the chapter is important or how it leads the story forward. When you think about whether or not the content of the chapter moves the story forward determine whether or not you could remove it completely. If the story would still be fundamentally solid without a scene, make a note in the To Do column to consider removing it. Don’t delete it! Move it to a different location in case you can use the content in another scene or even a different story.
To Do - Note what you find that needs fixing. Include items that you can see you need to strengthen or anything that doesn’t make sense or that just “feels” wrong. Look for cause and effect within the chapter. Lack of cause and effect is the equivalent of lack of tension which can present itself as “An action did not cause a reaction.”
Try not to focus too much on fixing the issues right while you are in the middle of your fact-finding mission. Instead, work your way through your full story and make detailed notes about any corrections you want to make.
Only read through Chapter 1 for now, then if you still have time, go on to Day 6 and start that worksheet. If you are able to create worksheets for Days 3 -7 in one sitting, that's great! It will allow you to read the rest of your chapters over the course of multiple days. If you are pinched for time, that's okay too. Do what you can and don't stress over what a long process editing can be. Try to give yourself a dedicated block of time just like you would do for writing and get done whatever you can.
As a final note, hang onto your chapter summary. If you decide to query agents for publication, some of them may ask you for a story synopsis. Your chapter summary will be a valuable tool in writing your synopsis.
DOWNLOAD: Chapter Summary Worksheet
Tips for working by hand
If you'd like to work on notepaper or set up your own table in your favorite application, include the columns listed above. The percentage listed is approximately the size you should make each column. If you are going to work by hand, don't draw the rows in until you start working and then add the rows as you complete each chapter.
Return to the Table of Contents
Go to Day 6 - Outlining (part 4 - Timeline)