Deconstructing Bestselling Novels, One Doodle at a Time.

Master Outline

master-outlineI am researching the common elements present in the first books of Harry PotterTwilight, and The Hunger Games and figuring out why they work.  I started outlining the shared traits of all three books below.

BEGIN “DREARY HOMELAND” FOR CHAPTERS 1 THROUGH 4.5 (the average separation period occupies the first 21% of the example novels)

  • Chapter 1
    • hero trait: introduce hero’s age, body type, hair and eye color through meaningful description
    • hero trait: hero’s parents are dead/unavailable
    • hero trait: introduce Hero’s everyday goal
    • hero trait: explain how Hero’s life is missing love/friendship/care
    • scene card: open on a bittersweet celebration day
    • character card: introduce villain
    • theme card: socioeconomic tension (show the hero is poor)
    • symbolism: briefly describe hero’s clothing as introduction
    • symbolism: the hero is “marked” by an actual symbol
  • Chapter 2
    • scene card: a day in the life (pleasant/normal errand)
    • hero trait: introduce “Chekhov’s Gun”
    • symbol card: hero prepares his family food
    • character card: introduce Herald
    • character card: introduce Mentor 
    • scene card: hero receives invitation for adventure
  • Chapter 3 (PRE-MIDDLE)
    • scene card: hero takes a short trip
    • character card: Mentor (visit armory)
    • scene card: hero says goodbye to his family
    • scene card: hero boards mass transit to awful-awesome land
    • theme card: socioeconomic tension (show the hero embarassed or mocked for being poor)
    • theme card: racial or ethnic tension between groups
    • scene card: clue #1
    • character card: the Healer 
    • symbolism: other characters recognize hero because of his “mark”
  • Chapter 4 (PRE-MIDDLE)
    • symbol card: introduce element of magic/fantasy/sci-fi
    • character card: Mentor (challenges authority)
    • theme card: death (fight for survival)
    • symbolism: the hero changes clothes
    • scene card: hero receives backstory through questions
    • scene card: hero learns something that foreshadows the climax

BEGIN “AWFUL-AWESOME LAND” FROM CHAPTER 4.5 TO 19.5 (the average initiation period occupies the middle 71% of the example novels)

  • Chapter 5 (PRE-MIDDLE)
    • scene card: Trial #1 (WIN): social acceptance “ceremony”
    • character card: introduce the Wise One
    • symbolism: the hero shares someone’s jacket
    • scene card: the hero receives advice
    • theme card: Good vs. Evil (hero doesn’t know whom to trust)
    • scene card: hero anticipates danger 
    • symbolism: the hero’s “mark” represents his lost parent’s protection
  • Chapter 6
    • scene card: Trial #2 (WIN)
    • character card: introduce sidekick (appearance, background, share food, sit quietly)
    • symbol card: hero enjoys some strange food
    • scene card: the hero makes preparations
    • hero trait: the hero is the reluctant center of attention (everyone stares)
    • character card: the bully
    • setting card: the cafeteria
    • theme card: racial or ethnic tension between groups
  • Chapter 7
    • scene card: Trial #3 (DRAW): hero takes a “pop quiz”
    • scene card: hero’s everyday goal overshadowed by threat from Villain; goal priority moves to survival
    • character card: the sidekick acts as magical guide; the sidekick and the hero have  a sleepover
    • scene card: Wake hero up with a foreshadowing nightmare.
    • scene card: Star-Crossed Lovers (introduce antagonistic attraction/love interest)
    • symbol card: use music to show magical elements, humor, authority, beauty, or a celebration
  • Chapter 8
    • scene card: Trial #4 (DRAW)
    • hero trait: another character praises the hero’s talent and good looks
    • hero trait: hero doesn’t recognize his talent or good looks
    • scene card: force the hero to spend time with the love interest
    • character card: The Shapeshifter
    • setting card: the cafeteria
  • Chapter 9
    • scene card: Trial #5 (WIN)
    • character card: the sidekick acts as magical guide 
    • character card: Mentor (receives help from hero)
    • hero trait: hero breaks some rules
    • hero trait: hero is a talented athlete (and changes clothes when playing sports) 
    • scene card: love interest Q&A session
    • female character trait: the main female character cries alone
  • Chapter 10
    • scene card: Trial #6 (DRAW)
    • scene card: hero’s family/friends reject her when she chooses to go after Villain; Hero cannot explain situation to them
    • scene card: hero has a sleepless, stressful night.
    • symbol card: ancient myth
    • theme card: Good vs. Evil (the hero conflicts with good authority figures)
    • setting card: the cafeteria
  • Chapter 11
    • character card: the sidekick and the hero are compared athletically
    • theme card: socioeconomic status (show the hero resenting or lashing out at someone wealthier)
    • character card: Mentor (withholds information)
    • scene card: (Trial #7 (WIN)) the hero is rescued by a minor character
    • character card: the Healer 
    • scene card: the hero eavesdrops and makes a bad assumption
  • Chapter 12
    • symbolism: the hero changes clothes prior to obstacle
    • scene card: Trial #8 (DRAW) : hero is in the air; secret good guy is on the ground
    • character card: the sidekick protects the hero from future harm
    • scene card: the hero has a horrific vision.
    • character card: the bully 
    • symbolism: the hero’s “mark” warns him of danger
  • Chapter 13
    • character card: the sidekick acts as magical guide
    • character card: Mentor (sends hero message)
    • scene card: (Trial #9 (FAIL)) the hero attempts to rescue a friend.
    • theme card: death (philosophically questioning death)
  • Chapter 14
    • scene card: (Trial #10 (DRAW)) the hero plays hide-n-seek with the villain’s henchmen
    • character card: Mentor (gives gift)
    • character card: The Shapeshifter
    • theme card: Good vs. Evil (other good characters conflict with each other)
    • scene card: sweet make-out session (first kiss)
  • Chapter 15
    • scene card: Trial #11 (WIN) (hero trait: demonstrate “Chekhov’s Gun“)
    • character card: the sidekick’s family/hometown sends hero a gift
    • character card: Mentor (helps hero’s friend)
    • scene card: hero risks life to protect her family/friends from Villain
    • symbol card: use music as a symbol to show care, show connection, solve a problem, or trigger a memory
  • Chapter 16
    • scene card: Trial #12 (FAIL/DRAW) the hero incapacitates a friend.
    • scene card: hero lies to protect someone (withholds information)
    • dark/enchanted forest setting
    • theme card: Good vs. Evil (the villain cannot control every bad guy)
    • female character trait: the heroine flirts to receive information 
    • symbolism: the hero’s “mark” represents survival as an act of rebellion
  • Chapter 17
    • scene card: (Trial #13 (WIN)) the hero is rescued by a major character
    • scene card: hero can’t ask for help (withholds information) 
    • scene card: hero sleeps next to the love interest
    • theme card: Good vs. Evil (society turns on the hero)
    • character card: the Healer
  • Chapter 18
    • scene card: Trial #14 (WIN) the hero passes the Gatekeeper
    • scene card: Trial #15 (WIN) (hero trait: fire “Chekhov’s Gun“)
    • character card: the sidekick is badly hurt
    • symbol card: ancient myth
    • theme card: death (immortality)
    • female character trait: the heroine emotionally manipulates someone
  • Chapter 19
    • scene card: final battle in villain’s lair; twist revealed; villain explains himself
    • scene card: TKO, wakes up in hospital, asks what happened, gets cover story
    • scene card: love interest declares love for hero
    • character card: Mentor (emotional reunion)
    • character card: the Wise One

BEGIN “HOMEWARD BOUND” SECTION FROM CHAPTER 19.5 UNTIL THE END (the average return period occupies 8% of the end of the example novels.  The length of endings have the largest variation: Harry Potter’s ending = 3% of the novel, Twilight’s ending = 15% of the novel, and The Hunger Games = 7% of the novel)

  • Chapter 20
    • symbolism: the hero changes back in to clothes of homeland
    • theme card: death (acceptance of fate / sacrifice for love)
  • Chapter 21 (Optional Epilogue)
    • scene card: ending with closure that hints at a continued threat
    • character card: Mentor (returns hero home)

Check out the archives to see these elements grouped by category.

Hi, I’m Christine. I deconstruct bestselling novels, one doodle at a time. This is where I share my research.

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Collins, Suzanne (2009-09-01). The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc. Kindle Edition. (“HG”).

Meyer, Stephenie (2007-07-18). Twilight (The Twilight Saga). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. (“TW”).

Rowling, J.K. (2012-03-27). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1). Pottermore Limited. Kindle Edition. (“HP”).


About Christine Frazier

I help people write better stories using research instead of luck. I’m a writer, joyous outliner, and compulsive doodler. Learn more.


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