Sample Chapter Outline Featuring the Conventional Story Arc


Working Title: The Paradise Chronicles: Mark St. Claire and the Beach Burglar

Story Length: Two hundred pages, broken roughly into twenty chapters of ten pages each.

Story Notes: All the stories in the series take place in Paradise, a quaint little California coastal town of about 2,000 people. The town’s name is derived from a magnificent stretch of beach fringed with coconut trees, which is the hub of many communal and commercial activities. The beach front features a pier, boardwalk, restaurants, cafes and shops. The rustic beach community is particularly attractive to visitors because of its beautiful beach, lovely historic builds, clean air and relatively low crime rate. Furthermore, all kinds of characters, including famous people, unexpectedly show up there, which makes it a very interesting and dynamic community. The town comprises several hotels, the foremost being the five-star Paradise Hotel, laundromats, a newspaper named The Paradise Chronicle, schools, hospitals, several high end shopping malls, a humane society, libraries, police precincts, many cottages and townhouses, as well as mansions belonging to the leading townspeople and the governor.

The Paradise Chronicles, the main title of the stories, is taken from the name of the newspaper at which the main character, Mark St. Claire, is a columnist and major influencer.

Story Summary: To start, write the broad strokes of the story in three sentences, which represent the beginning, middle and end of your story. This is a technique used by filmmakers, which adapts very well to the novel writing process.

Sentence 1: A small-town journalist becomes an amateur detective when local police are unable to catch a serial jewelry thief.

Sentence 2: The journalist faces a moral dilemma when it seems that the thief is someone he dearly loves.

Sentence 3: Through the bravery of the journalist and his willingness to face a dangerous situation, the thief is arrested and the case solved.

Character Notes

Mark St. Claire is the main character. Mark is a professional writer. He’s a thirty-five year old African American, who keeps regular hours, works out at the gym, still has a good head of hair which he wears in a somewhat retro afro, and is a trendy, though not flashy, dresser. Though several women in the community consider Mark handsome and a good catch, he has an aversion to commitment, and has so far managed to elude being caught in the relationship trap, a fact he takes secret pride in. Mark writes for the Paradise Chronicle, and has his own column, The Chanticleer. He’s also an acclaimed guest columnist for several national newspapers and magazines.

Jimmy James is Mark’s next door neighbour and buddy. He’s a retired widower, and still very youthful in his middle fifties. He recently began to date Kenya Brown, an attractive younger woman. He’s a real estate hobbyist, who recently bought a house from a widow and is fixing it up. He occasionally buys mobile homes to renovate and sell. A one-time apartment manager, Jimmy is knowledgeable about all things to do with buildings, including how to pick locks.

Kenya Brown – Jimmy’s girlfriend, a teacher at the local community college. Kenya is thirty-one years, attractive, smart and level headed. Though she and Jimmy have only recently begun to date each other, the relationship shows every sign of a good, stable and long-term union.

Michael King – Celebrity author who moves into the neighbourhood and is soon afterwards murdered, apparently while his townhouse is being robbed.

Natasha Lin – Michael’s live-in personal assistant. Natasha is extremely beautiful and sultry, with an aura of mystery surrounding her life. She becomes very attached to Mark, who, despite being commitment averse, finds himself falling in love with her.

Elijah Allen – The Paradise chief of police in charge of the investigation of the robberies and Mark’s good friend. From time to time, he would slip Mark information concerning a case, but not very much and not very often.

June Smith – Mark’s close neighbour who usually runs the Neighbourhood Watch meetings. June is in her middle fifties, and is a retired widow. She, herself, is a victim of the jewelry thief.

Kathy Benson – Editor of the Paradise Chronicle and Mark’s boss. She’s a thirty-something single workaholic, who likes to chew Mark out for sport.

Stephen and Janice Crawford – A middle-aged couple who are victims of the jewelry burglar.

Pete Palmer – Neighbour who keeps odd hours. He tends to be up during the wee hours of the morning, and has a knack of knowing everything that’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Gina Williams – Mark’s friend. She’s a twenty-nine year old museum curator, as well as a professional jewelry/metalsmith. Very pretty, smart and knowledgeable.

Deanna Williams – Gina’s twenty-seven year old sister who works in the forensics lab at the police department. She has a crush on Mark, and often slips him information off the record.

Chip Sisnet – A young visitor to Paradise, who spends all his time at the beach, and who has become a fan of Mark’s column.

Chapter 1 – In this chapter, show the protagonist in his/her normal world and introduce the event that triggers the start of the story.

Mark likes to walk along the Paradise Boardwalk in the morning. The ocean breeze is invigorating, and Mark finds he’s able to think. He’s got a fabulous idea for next week’s column, and he also has an amazing idea for a series of stories he’s trying to sell to his editor about the financial benefits of buying a home in the Caribbean and retiring there. One perk of this story is that he would get a (hopefully free) trip to the Caribbean, and Mark would dearly love to go to the Caribbean. Oh, the pictures he’s seen of Barbados and Jamaica. It’s so beautiful over there, Mark could taste it.

As he walks along the boardwalk, a young man, Chip Sisnet, greets him, and gushes about Mark’s column, The Chanticleer, how great the last editorial was.

As he approaches his house, he sees the police in the front yard of his neighbour, June Smith. Since he’s friendly with law enforcement, he pops into the yard to find out what’s going on. The young policeman in the yard informs him that June is the latest victim of what Mark is beginning to think is a serial burglar. Thing is, June is robbed while out of town for only one day. Not fair! That’s 5th this month?

As he’s about to turn up his walkway, Mark sees Jimmy, his neighbour, watering his flowers. Jimmy is a serious horticulturalist, and has cultivated the most beautiful garden in the town. They discuss this latest robbery and decide to call another meeting of the Neighbourhood Watch.

Mark and Jimmy also notice there’s a new neighbour moving into the townhouse a few doors down. A man accompanied by a young woman. Mark is astonished. The man is Michael King, the famous author. There’s a celebrity in the neighbourhood! The woman is very pretty too, and attracts Mark’s attention.

Chapter 2 – In this chapter develop the inciting incident, the event that forces the protagonist from his/her normal routine and into the story’s adventure.

Two days later, Mark sees the young lady who had moved into the townhouse with Michael King. She’s at her mailbox, and Mark decides it would be the gentlemanly thing to go over and say ‘Hi’. They get into conversation, and Mark discovers, to his delight, that she’s even more beautiful up close, and is, in addition, charming as well as intelligent. Her name is Natasha. She’s Michael King’s personal assistant, and like King, is a writer, though unpublished.

Later in the day, Mark is in the office of Kathy Benson, his editor at the Paradise Chronicle. He tells her about the celebrity writer in town and suggests that he do an interview with him. Kathy agrees, and Mark looks forward not only to the interview, but also to talking with Natasha again. He sits down to work on his column, in which he’s warning the community to be on the alert for the serial burglar. His phone rings. The man on the other end of the line does not reveal his identity, but tells him there’s been a murder in the neighbourhood, and that he should get over to the townhouse fast.

Mark races over there, and finds that the caller was all too correct. The ambulance is already there, as well as the police. The victim is Michael King. Natasha is in distress. She tells Mark a little about her relationship with Michael. She’s his personal assistant, and happens to have extensive access to all Michael’s affairs. Mark decides there and then to investigate the matter, the death and the burglaries, especially since it appears as if Michael may have been accidentally killed while someone was trying to rob the townhouse.

Chapter 3 – Here, introduce important secondary characters, and establish the direction and pace of the narrative.

The Neighbourhood Watch meeting is in full swing. Its a gathering of the important people in the neighbourhood, and discussion centers around the crimes recently committed. Due to the number of robberies, one of which involved the death of a visitor to the community, and famous one at that, the chief of police, Elijah Allen, has been invited to give a talk. Chief Allen warns everyone to report anything suspicious, find a buddy and take a walk and keep their eyes open for unfamiliar vehicles and people. The burglar is apparently armed and dangerous. A man died after happening upon one of these burglaries in progress. Don’t try to be a hero, he tells them.

Chapter 4 – In this chapter, recount the events which lead the protagonist to make a life-changing decision.

Mark decides to use all his journalist contacts and skills to find out about the death of Michael King and also to investigate the burglaries. He confides all this to Jimmy, who wants in. Mark is unwilling to involve his friend in what is obviously a dangerous situation, but Jimmy is adamant, and eventually Mark gives in.

Mark is unsatisfied with the results of the police investigation so far. They are, predictably, viewing Natasha as a main suspect in the murder of Michael King. He invites Natasha out for coffee and questions her closely about Michael. He discovers that Michael was a very difficult employer, and also that there’s something about the relationship between Michael and Natasha that she’s not talking about. He decides to dig deeper to find out what that is. He’s also beginning to realize he’s developing deep feelings for Natasha, and that his decision to delve into this crime is a result of that. It’s his way of making a commitment to her. Jimmy also notices this, and, though amused, offers a few tips and advises Mark to be careful.

Chapter 5 – First Plot Point: The protagonist’s journey begins because of the choice s/he has makes.

Because of his work at The Paradise Chronicle, Mark has a very good network of contacts in the police department. One of them is Deanna Williams, who works in forensics, and who, he knows, is infatuated with him. Mark is only a tad guilty about exploiting Deanna’s feelings for him for his own gain. Though she cannot give out very detailed information about active cases, Deanna does hint that the autopsy has ruled out natural causes in Michael’s death. His cause of death, she says, is hemorrhaging due to being struck with a blunt object. She also lets on that Natasha may be deeply implicated in Michael’s murder. Mark is mortified to hear this, and this prompts him to get even more involved in the investigation. He decides that he’s going to conduct a deep investigation into the life of Michael King.

Chapter 6 – Develop the story complications.

Meanwhile, another burglary has taken place. This time, the victim is Stephen Crawford and his wife Janice. As he’s sitting in the Cafe Mint on the boardwalk going over the details of this latest robbery with Jimmy, Mark notices there’s something all the robberies have in common. The thief is interested in an expensive kind of filigree jewelry, and seems knowledgeable about this type of jewelry. It occurs to him that the burglaries are not random. This prompts him to create a list of possible future victims, as well as a few suspects of his own.

Mark consults with another of his extensive contacts, Gina, Deanna’s sister, who’s a metalsmith, and very knowledgeable about this type of filigree jewelry. Gina informs him that this type of jewelry is associated with the history of Paradise and is owned mainly by the older, established families of the town. She also gives him information about the possible markets for the stolen filigree pieces.

That evening, as he’s walking home, Mark is approached by his neighbour, Pete Palmer, who’s a self-proclaimed inventor, keeps odd hours, and has a knack for knowing everything that’s going on in town. Pete tells Mark there has been late-night activity going on at the townhouse where Michael King was murdered, even though the place is now a crime scene and has been cordoned off by the police. Mark is astonished to hear this.

Pete believes he’s seen Natasha somewhere before and that her current identity is false. He proposes the wild theory that Natasha is the jewelry thief, and is, along with Chip Sisnet, actually part of a ring of international jewelry thieves who have targeted Paradise for this latest string of heists. Mark poo-poos this notion. Pete says one of the people he’s seen at the townhouse during the wee hours fit Chip’s description. Mark dismisses this idea as well. Chip is just another scruffy kid, a surfer, passing through Paradise on holiday. But he does consider Pete’s suggestion to stake out the townhouse.

Chapter 7 – Develop the story’s complications.

Mark is on a date with Natasha. He can’t help but think how beautiful she is and how fortunate he is to be on a date with her. Natasha is, understandably, a bundle of nerves, what with the police treating her as if she’s a murderer, and this causes Mark to feel very protective towards her. Furthermore, since the townhouse is now a crime scene, Natasha was forced to move into the Paradise Hotel, and she’s feeling out of sorts because she’s left some valuable stuff behind at the townhouse and is unable to gain access to it.

Mark is extremely sympathetic. He notices that she wears expensive filigree jewelry, and advises her to be careful. He also realizes that the more time he spends with her, the more deeply in love he’s becoming. Natasha shares some more of her story with Mark. She informs him that Michael was narcissistic, and that he was also an alcoholic. The only reason she stayed with him was because he paid her very well and she felt sorry for him because he really needed someone to help him keep his life afloat and enable him to keep up his public persona and appearances.

Chapter 8 – Develop the story’s complications.

Mark can’t stop thinking about the murder of Michael King, especially in the light of all that Natasha has told him. He decides to do his own background check on King. Although he’s on very good terms with the police chief, he knows he won’t get much information out of him, and so once again, he taps his contact in forensics, Deanna, for access to the police database. But Deanna is not willing to allow access for free this time. Mark has to pay up – take her on a real date. Mark gamely agrees. Deanna says she could get him into the lab during one of the really slow periods, Sunday afternoon, when Chief Allen and most of the officers will be out, but he’ll only have 30 minutes tops, so he must make the most of it. Mark finds King in the database, but is unable to properly investigate because Deanna hustles in and tells him he’s got to get out now, because there’s been another robbery and Chief Allen is on his way in.

Chapter 9 – Develop the story’s complications.

Even though Mark was unable to investigate King as thoroughly as he would have liked, he did see enough to suggest that King was not who he said he was. He also saw something that makes him suspicious, and that makes him wonder if Natasha was more to King than his personal assistant. Is she even who she says she is? Mark is becoming increasingly disturbed by all this. He tries to call Natasha, but is unable to reach her on her phone. He goes over to the Paradise Hotel and discovers that she’s not there either. For one of the few times in his life, Mark is out of sorts because of a woman, and he’s not very happy with himself about this. He does what he commonly does when he’s feeling out of sorts – buries himself in his work. But instead of writing the witty, intelligent, well-reasoned editorials he’s famous for, he goes on a long, emotional anti-crime rant.

Chapter 10 – In this chapter, show an event which forces the protagonist to make another decision or choice that takes the story in another direction.

Mark decides to break into the townhouse in which Michael King was murdered. He’s very disturbed at the number of discrepancies in Natasha’s stories, and he begins to suspect that she’s not who she says she is. He’s not much of a cat burglar, but knows enough to know that he ought to wear black to blend with the nighttime darkness, and that he would need to pick the lock somehow.

Jimmy, familiar with buildings, knows all about picking locks, and so Mark has to confide in him about his plans. Jimmy informs him that that townhouse is owned by an old family which no longer resides in Paradise. The building is currently being managed by a Chicago real estate firm. He speculates that maybe there’s something in particular the thief wanted in the townhouse. Once again, Jimmy wants in, and once again, Mark is unwilling to lead his friend into danger. But Jimmy says he won’t give Mark his lock picking tools unless he can go to the crime scene too. He suggests that his knowledge of the buildings in the area could be useful. So Mark and Jimmy break into the townhouse in the dead of night. Mark is unsure what he’s looking for. Clues. To whom Michael King was. To whom Natasha is. Somehow, he thinks Michael King, though he was only in the neighbourhood two days, is at the center of this crime wave that has suddenly broken upon Paradise.

Chapter 11 – In this chapter, show how the obstacles and/or complications become more complex.

Mark is taking his usual morning walk, his head full of the conflicting details of the mystery of Michael King, Natasha and the stolen jewelry. His search of the townhouse last night didn’t throw up anything he considered significant. He encounters Chip again, and they talk about the robberies. Chip confides that he too has been robbed, but never reported his robberies to the police. Chip says he doesn’t have a whole lot of luck with the law, and tries to keep out of their way as much as possible. He admits that when he was still in high school, he and a friend got themselves arrested for borrowing a neighbour’s car and taking it on a joyride, and is, consequently, in the police database. This makes him nervous around the police. Mark is surprised to hear this. Though he could see Chip stealing a car, the young man doesn’t strike him as the kind of person who’s able to afford expensive jewelry. This revelation prompts him to reconsider his original assessment of Chip, especially in the light of what Pete had been suggesting about him all along. Chip Sisnet has now officially become another piece in the puzzle.

Chapter 12 – Develop the story’s obstacles/complications in this chapter.

Mark finally hears from Natasha again. She calls him and apologises for just disappearing like that but she had to leave town suddenly. Business to do with Michael’s estate. Mark asks her to meet him at the Cafe Mint, and she agrees. He turns up, but she is nowhere to be seen. He tries calling her, but once again, gets no answer. Natasha appears to have dropped off the grid.

Chapter 13 – Develop the story’s obstacles/complications in this chapter.

Mark decides to take a more direct approach with the police department, and sets up an appointment with Chief Allen to see if he can get any information. They meet at the Boardwalk Bistro, and Mark treats the chief to his favorite double Angus beef half pounder and jumbo french fries. Chief Allen, while happily chowing down on his burger and fries, warns Mark that Natasha is looking very shady, and points out a number of inconsistencies in her stories. He warns Mark that she’s trouble and to keep out of her way, and to keep out of the police investigation, because his involvement has already once scared away their main suspect, Natasha, and might do it again. He also warns Mark to stop talking to Chip Sisnett, since he’s also a suspect.

This last bit of information comes as a surprise to Mark. The kid spends all his time lounging in the sun on the beach, swimming in the ocean, guzzling beer and chatting up girls in swimsuits. How could he possibly be any threat? But he respects Chief Allen’s expertise, and so takes him seriously. In any case, he’s already suspicious of both Chip and Natasha. The chief has only made him more suspicious. He decides reluctantly to set a trap for them.

Chapter 14 – Develop the story’s obstacles/complications.

Mark goes to the beach with the deliberate purpose of finding Chip Sisnet, and sure enough, the lad is there with a pretty girl. Mark engages them in friendly conversation, and casually mentions that there has been activity around the townhouse in which Michael King has been murdered. Chip seems interested in this, for the murder of Michael King is still the talk of the day. Mark also tells Chip that one of his contacts in the police department informed him – off the record – that evidence implicating Natasha in the crime has been located at the townhouse. Chip asks Mark for more information, but Mark says that’s all he knows.

Having laid the bait, Mark and Jimmy stake out the townhouse. They’re in Jimmy’s jeep, and are parked deep in the shadow of a cluster of trees down the road. Mark is distracted, first, because Jimmy insisted on bringing a bucket of Popeye’s chicken and biscuits, because, he says, being up late at night makes him hungry and he’s really chowing down, and secondly because Mark can’t get Natasha out of his head. He’s still hurt that she stood him up a couple days ago, and very disturbed to think she might be a criminal. Mark and Jimmy engage in a discussion about the pros and cons of bachelorhood. The stakeout proves fruitful, since someone does show up, and is unlocking the front door of the townhouse when Jimmy accidentally hits the horn and the person runs away. Mark follows on foot, with Jimmy playing backup in the jeep. They catch up with the fleeing person. It’s Natasha.

Chapter 15 – Second Plot Point – In this chapter, show new events derived from increased complexities of the situation, which force a new choice on the protagonist.

Mark is, understandably, very upset, but not surprised. He accuses Natasha of being the jewelry thief and asks her if she murdered King. Natasha replies that she’s neither a thief nor a murderer. She says she’s afraid for her life and that’s why she disappeared the way she did. Mark and Jimmy take her with them back to Mark’s house, where she tells the full story.

Natasha explains that everything she had told Mark is the truth except for the fact that she’s more than King’s personal assistant. She is a ghostwriter, and the actual author of four out of seven of King’s bestselling novels. King had become a depressed alcoholic to such an extent he was no longer able to write, though he was a gifted writer. He was also unable to maintain a professional public persona, and so Natasha managed his life, so to speak. The Michael King of the media was nothing more than a well-managed shell.

The reason they moved to Paradise was because King began receiving death threats after the publication of the latest book written under his name and was in fear of his life. This novel was a fictionalised story about an underground crime family authored by Natasha, who didn’t realize how much of the details of her novel mirrored the lives of a real crime family. Together, they sought someplace out of the way where King was not so much in the limelight. The idea was to lie low for a while until Natasha could figure out the next move to make.

As far as the robberies was concerned, Natasha swears she has no idea about them. Though the police believe King was killed during the course of an attempted robbery of the townhouse, Natasha is more inclined to think it was a hit by the crime family made to look like a robbery. When Mark asks her if she knows Chip Sisnet, Natasha declares that she does not.

Mark believes Natasha’s story, and expresses relief that she is not a perpetrator of any crime, but is, rather, a victim. He vows to get Natasha the protection she needs, and also get to the bottom of the jewelry heists. He believes he can speak to his friend, Chief Allen, in order to find Natasha someplace safe where she can lie low.

Chapter 16 – In this chapter, show how the new decision of the protagonist makes the situation seem more bleak.

When morning comes, Mark and Jimmy drive Natasha to the precinct and ask to see Chief Allen. The trio do obtain a meeting with the chief, but instead of believing Natasha’s story, Chief Allen places her under arrest for King’s murder and the theft of the jewelry.

Chapter 17 – In this chapter, show how the situation worsens.

Mark goes to visit Natasha in lockup, and tries to apologize for getting her even deeper into trouble, but she’s very angry and doesn’t want to hear him. She yells at him to get out of her life and leave her alone, because associating with him has only brought her more problems than she had before. Mark is mortified, because he realises how much he truly loves Natasha.

Chapter 18 – In this chapter, the situation appears hopeless.

Though it’s the middle of the day, Mark has not yet gone into the office at the Paradise Chronicle. He’s been sitting on the boardwalk all morning agonizing over the day’s events. Natasha is in jail because of him. It’s not right. So many things about this case are not right. He decides he’s going to take another, more careful look at all the evidence so far. He also decides to go back to the townhouse in which King was murdered. He’s sure he overlooked something there. He recalls an earlier conversation with Gina in which the suggestion was made that the jewelry being stolen was peculiar to Paradise and had a special kind of historical value, as well as Jimmy’s revelation that the townhouse in which King was murdered belongs to an old Paradise family.

Mark ambles over to Jimmy’s house and they discuss the situation. While there, Mark filches Jimmy’s lock picking tools. That night, he returns to the townhouse alone, uses Jimmy’s tools to pick the lock and looks around again. He recalls that there’s a safe in there, and he homes in on that. He hears a noise and realizes he’s not alone. Someone else has broken into the townhouse. It’s Chip. Despite the danger of this new development, Mark confronts Chip, who becomes violent, attacks him and knocks him out cold.

Chapter 19 – Resolution, in which the protagonist learns a life lesson and is changed

Mark wakes up in the hospital. In the room are Jimmy and Kenya, along with Gina and Deanna, anxiously waiting for him to wake up. Though he had been hit hard, he’s going to be okay. Pete had seen everything and called the police and the ambulance.

It turns out that Chip Sisnet is the jewelry thief, and is part of a large network of thieves who steal high end jewelry and art and sell them internationally to the highest bidder. Jimmy tells him Chip admitted that King did stumble upon him while he was in the townhouse attempting to crack the safe, and in a moment of panic killed him. Chip also admitted that he had deliberately come to Paradise because of his knowledge of a number of people living there who owned the type of jewelry he and his ring had targeted. After all this, Chief Allen had no choice but to place Chip under arrest and release Natasha from jail.

Chapter 20 – Wrap up. In this chapter show how everything experienced by the protagonist has changed him/her.

Mark is happily walking along the Paradise Boardwalk with Natasha by his side. Mark tells Natasha that he’s no longer interested in being a happy-go-lucky perpetual bachelor and is ready to finally share his life with a beautiful and smart woman. They really do have a lot in common, both being writers, and Mark tells Natasha she should come out of Michael King’s shadow and be a bestselling author in her own right. Mark is also happy to disclose he has got the Caribbean gig and invites Natasha to accompany him and perhaps together they could have a great Caribbean vacation while they write great stories.