History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Outlines!

Outline of a bookI’ve talked previously about how I track my projects on a grand scale. (If you missed those posts, you can find them here, here, and here.) And I talked a little about keeping track of story ideas here, more recently.

But when it really comes down to it, keeping my ideas organized mostly happens in the form of outlines. When I first started writing, I didn’t outline anything. I had the ideas in my head, I let the story go where it wanted to go, and all that “pantser” jazz.

And it didn’t work for me.

I’d forget about something I really wanted to include. The plot would meander until it hit a wall. Or the really brilliant idea I had would slip away before I had a chance to do anything with it.

I started outlining novels first, using Mark Teppo’s system of questions and a formulaic outline, which he explains brilliantly in Jumpstart Your Novel. But then I realized that my short stories could also benefit from outlines, and I started writing those up as well.

Outlining novels is very different from outlining short stories. In novels, you’re looking at multiple arcs, all sorts of attempts and failures, and so much more. For most short stories, you’re looking at a single arc and maybe a couple of try-fail-try again cycles, depending on the length of the story.

So when I outline my short stories, they usually turn out like this:

  • How and where does the story start? What thing has happened that makes this story worth telling?
  • How does the protagonist try to fix it?
  • How does that go wrong?
  • How do they try to fix that?
  • How does it resolve.

Sounds super simple, right? It doesn’t always work out exactly this way, but I find that if I can take a story idea and make it fit this mold, it’ll be something that I can write quickly that I’ll be pleased with. And really, that’s my ultimate goal! Write a lot of stories I like!


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