As an example of how the Plot Outline Exercise might look, here is an outline of the opening scenes of my unpublished middle grade novel, Secrets, featuring a 12-year-old boy who runs into mysterious people while hiking in the woods. Here I’ve used italics instead of colored pen for the subplot.

Chapter 1, 12 pages: Jesse plans a fishing trip while dealing with family secrets. Conflict — yes. Emotions — Jesse is angry and resentful. Subplot — family secrets.

Notes: Delete opening scene and start the next day when Jesse is ready to leave. Bring his father into the scene, showing the distance between them. Trim chapter to get Jesse out of the house and into the woods quickly — move scene with Becca to later in the book.

Chapter 2, seven pages: Jesse goes hiking, follows tracks, and meets a woman in the woods. Conflict — tension, but no major conflict. Emotions — confidence, then curiosity.

Notes: Cut scenery to get to action sooner. Have Jesse briefly get annoyed at family secrets while hiking. Increase conflict by having him notice blood on the trail.

Chapter 3, scene one, six pages: Jesse helps Maria. Conflict — tension, but no major conflict. Emotions — Jesse gets schoolboy crush on the older Maria.

Notes: Include Maria’s brother Rick in the scene and have them acting nervous to increase sense of mystery. Include a cliffhanger moment with Maria asking Jesse to promise not to tell anyone he’s seen them, and end chapter.

Chapter 3, scene two, five pages: Jesse fishes and then goes back to Maria. Conflict — none. Emotions — proud of his abilities.

Notes: Include more varied emotions. Have him remember fishing with dad and ponder the family secrets. Have him wonder more about these strangers. Include first scene from next chapter when Shaw shows up, to end on a dramatic moment.

Outlining the book this way showed me several important things about the opening chapters. First of all, after some conflict in the first chapter, I had two chapters, one of them very long, with no major conflict. Since this is a suspense novel, I needed to increase the conflict. I also needed to pick up the pace, deleting some of the description. I had a good scene with his little sister Becca in the first chapter, but it didn’t need to be there. I could get Jesse into the woods more quickly by moving that scene to the next time he is at home. And I needed the strangers in the woods to be more mysterious early on.

I also noticed that I dropped the family secrets subplot through much of the book, because Jesse is not at home most of the time. I needed to find ways to include that, if only by having him think about it.

Your format may be different — for example, you may want to make columns for Chapter Number, Number of Pages, Conflict, and Emotions, so you don’t have to keep writing the words. You may choose to do this as a computer document, a spreadsheet, or with handwritten notes on paper (just remember to leave plenty of room for notes after each chapter.) You may have more notes on each chapter and you may find a different way to organize them. Do what works for you.