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Outlines and short stories

I chased away the blues yesterday and woke up early this morning, full of ideas.  I've been fussing over what to write for the GSHW short story competition.  Originally, I planned to write a horror story.  I had (I thought) a great premise and plot, but when I wrote the outline, it didn't feel quite right, so about a week ago, I decided to let it fester for a while and go with something else, a sci-fi, set in the late 1940s, that I came up with last year.

The weird thing is, after I wrote a 1,000 word outline for that,  I realized I didn't like the ending.  I liked the sci-fi part of it though, so I've changed the setting (now mid 1950s), come up with completely different set of characters, changed the non sci-fi part of the plot and did a lot of online research.  This morning, I took another look at it and changed the beginning one last time.  So far, I'm up to 700 words.  I expect to finish the first (3,500-word) draft by the weekend. 

I'm a great believer in using outlines (I even do one for the 100-word drabbles I write).  I find it enormously helpful to get the whole story straight in my head before I start to do the first draft.  Even though I've spent a lot of time and effort on the above-mentioned sci-fi idea before putting pen to paper as it were, and despite the fact that I may well change some other things as I go along, I consider it more than worthwhile, since (at least as far as I'm concerned), I've ended up with a stronger story than the one I'd have told if I just sat down and started typing. 

How about you?  Does anyone else outline short stories? 


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( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Short stories? No. By the time I outline, I've got a first draft. I do VERY short stories though--typically between 500 and 1500 words. Only one is 'long' and it clocks in around 6K.

I outline novels--a rambling sort of thing that makes sense to no one but me. It works though!
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:21 am (UTC)
'... It works though!'

I guess when it comes down to it, that's the important thing :)
Jun. 3rd, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
I feel my stories are stronger if I don't outline -- whatever suits!
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
Out of curiousity, have you ever tried?
(no subject) - peadarog - Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 4th, 2009 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peadarog - Jun. 4th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 4th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Wow. 1000 word outlines must take a lot of time. I normally write maybe 30 words of plot summary (the story as if I were telling it to someone) and then flesh it in from there.

I do outline more when writing a novel, obviously, but not to that extent.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
I likes to do my outlines :)
Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Outlining is usually very helpful to me. ;o)
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)
Even if I discover the story sucks, I'd rather find out before wasting time on the first draft, though I can see how writing that can also help you come up with new ideas.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
I'm not a big short story writer, but I do love to outline. That being said, I have never outlined for a short story... well, I did for one short story and then decided not to write it, so I think that still counts.
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC)
Ansolutely it does. If you can't fix the outline, you shelve it for now, or chuck it in the bin, but think of all the time you saved.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
I'm a horrible outliner. I do generally have a good idea of beginning-end (curse those middles) but when I create a "hardcore" outline, I find the story loses something. Part of it may be that I was beaten into NEVER varying from the outline in high school (side story - we were forced to turn in outlines first, then wrote our essays to the outline, and if they were different...boy did we get it) so when I do get a "seat of the pants" moment I'm reluctant to follow it.


With that said, some form of prewriting generally keeps me more or less on track. Without a very basic outline the story tends to spiral off into the ether, never to return.

I have successfully written, uh, three or four short stories. It's generally very hard for me to cram what I want to tell into less than 10,000 words, but the ones I have managed to complete didn't use an outline at all.
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:08 am (UTC)
I don't think I've ever written an outline that didn't change during the course of writing the story, but those changes always felt worthwhile.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
I don't outline anything. I'm hopeless at making plans and sticking to 'em. I make it all up as I go along.
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)
I wish I could do that, but if I don't use an outline, I end up spending way too much time fixing/improving the story later.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
It depends on the story.

Sometimes I have one or more characters in mind when I begin. Once I have them, I usually rely on "triggers." Starting with some core event, I ask myself, "And how would so-and-so react to THAT?"

The core event is usually the beginning or ending--or both and the challenge for me is forging those middle links that round out the chain. (Yes, curse those middle links!)
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)
lol I guess the middle bit is where we make the most of ideas like the ones peadarog mentions in his linked post above.

Me, I like to plan out every horrible thing I put my characters through.
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)
Outline a short story? I've never had a thought like that in my life. I can barely manage an outline for my novels until after I've gotten at least 8 chapters in. I use 'em for longer work, but they don't work so well for shorter stuff. I get bored really fast if I already know where the story is going before I start writing :)

Yes, I write to entertain myself. Just happens occasionally other folks want to read along.
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)
I like to know where the story's going. That way I can think of ways to make it impossible for my characters to get there :)
(no subject) - xmurphyjacobsx - Jun. 4th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
I don't outline anything, novels or short stories. I generally have two or three scenes in mind that I know I want in the story and just wing it from there. Anything I screw up along the way I always repair in rewrites.

I've tried outlining but by the time I do so I've burned away the desire to actually write the story.
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)
That's happened to me on a couple of occasions, but in my case, it wasn't so much the creating of an outline, as the realization that my story/idea wasn't as good as I thought :(
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)
That makes sense. After all, if you don't know where you're headed, you can't know you're not there yet. Sort of :)
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
Generally, for short stories, I do not outline.

But if the story requires some type of trick/surprise ending then I might write things down to try and make sure it will work.

I might write a synopsis in order to keep in mind the main intent of the story, but normally I begin with a character and figure out what their problem is. Figure out how it ends then try and connect the dots from beginning to end.
Jun. 4th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
I like surprise endings. In an outline, I make sure I put clue points in specific places, so the reader can't accuse me of cheating, like the old 'This telegram I received this morning tells me that you're not Fred Bloggs, who has no motive for killing Lord Smith, but are in fact Harold Smith, Lord Smith's son from his first marriage. Take him away inspector.' trick :)
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
I almost never outline anything, not even novels. I will sometimes make miscellaneous plot notes to myself as I work, if I get an idea that was not in my original plan. And if I get a story idea (by story idea, I mean simply something I want to write; I don't usually know whether it will turn out to be a book or a short story at the point) outside my current project, I will create a file and jot a paragraph or tow down about it, but that's usually as far as it goes.

I think you are either a natural otuliner or you are a pantser, and it is better to work in whichever way that maximizes your output and satisfies your creative needs. Whenever I went to panels where writers spoke about the way they worked, no two writers were exactly alike.
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm not a natural outliner, I wrote my first novel without any kind of notes at all - and spent the last four years trying to fix it :(.

As for pantser, I think I know what you mean, but call someone that in the north of England and you'll likely get into trouble ;).

As you quite rightlt say, the bottom line is to do whatever works for you.
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Jun. 4th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 4th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 4th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I try to outline, but I always seem to go off plan.
Jun. 4th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
Me too, but that's okay. At least you know why.
Jun. 8th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
I outline occasionally. However, so far, I've had mre success without the outlines. Part of the problem I Run into with outlines is that my brain thinks I've told the story already, and gets bored easier. Therefore it takes considerable more concentration and focus to get a story done. The more concentration and focus I bring to bear, the more likely the "internal editor" is to try and jump into the driver's seat.

However, I try varying up my techniques with short stories, hoping always to find new methods and solutions that can carry me forward. At this stage, I think the experimentation brings more value than harm. Should I progress to the stage where I've got a reliable methodology, well at that point I'd be less willing to mess with what works.
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
Interesting :)
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

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