Monday, March 3, 2014

Developing An Outline for Your Short Story

Spring time is approaching and that always makes me think of short story writing for some reason! I'm re-posting this piece by Clive West on how to use an outline to develop your short story!---Mary Ann

They might not take as long to complete as an epic novel. You won’t, in most instances, be putting in weeks, months or even years of research. But if anybody ever told you that writing short stories was easy, they were very wrong. And the hardest part of all is getting started.

Your ideas are there, and some are very strong, but they’re jumbled. Characters are coming to life in your mind. You think your story could be great, and you’re desperate to get in on paper.

Stop there. When writing fiction, planning is everything. Here are a few tips on how to write the perfect short story outline.

Your characters

Get those characters right
Your characters will drive your situations, further your plot and take up a lot of space in your mind until you get your story finished! They’re important, yes? So invest plenty of time in them! Make a list, a template if you like, for them, from the basics of their name and age, through to their fears and key life experiences. Go so far as to list ‘facts’ about them that, although may drive their actions in your story, you will not reveal to the reader. Make them as realistic, well rounded and as human as you can. Wooden or forgettable characters will make your story about as riveting as watching grass grow, no matter how solid or inventive your plot is.

Note down and play around with your dialogue

You may have snippets of conversation between characters in your head, or just single lines of dialogue you want to fit in but are not sure what to do with yet. That’s fine; just get them all written down. Say them aloud. They may appear very different in both instances than they initially did in your head – you might decide you no longer want to keep them at all! And that’s fine. Change and adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid of a little experimentation – no harm will come from it!

Now write that outline!

It’s time to get your beginning, middle and end down onto paper. Be detailed – don’t just make quick notes, use full sentences. Note down when the dialogue you have written and planned will be used and who by.  Don’t just rely on your memory, get those tiny but important details in there too. You’ll be surprised how easily they might slip your mind when it comes to drafting, and one little slip could ruin your entire piece. Don’t write it like a synopsis; think of your story in chunks. How big or small these chunks are is up to you, but use a bullet point to describe what is going to unfold in each one. Make sure everything is in order.

Polish and modify

One day, one day.
Your outline needs the tender love of your inner editor as well. Before you even think about starting that first draft, read through the outline. Does everything make sense? Are there things that you might like, but don’t need in terms of furthering the plot? Are some moments in the story weaker or less interesting than others? Spot and solve these early problems. Don’t leave it until you start writing; the more you prepare with your outline, the easier drafting will be.

All done? You’re ready to go. Good luck!

Sometime in the near future, when your short story is completed, edited and ready for anything, you might be thinking about trying to get it seen by a publisher. Why not give Any Subject Books a try? They always welcome new talent, and if they see true potential in your work you might find yourself on their list of authors very soon indeed!  Their submission process and guidelines are simple to follow and can be found on their 'Writers Wanted' page.


  1. Nice post! I don't usually outline for a short story so I'll give this a try!

  2. The mathematician in me means that I outline every story I write because I need to know that I can get from A to B before I start scribbling. Once I've done that, the rest 'just' fits in and then I go back and polish it afterwards.

    For some examples, just read Hobson's Choice! ;)

  3. I have a hard time making my ideas into longer stories. I have always been interested in writing, and good at it, but I find myself continually producing short stories. How will I ever write a novel?

  4. If you're good at writing short stories, celebrate that in itself. My anthology of twist-in-the-tails, Hobson's Choice, is our publishing company's top-seller by quite a long chalk.

    A novel is (normally) a basic idea that has been expanded by means of providing more detail, boosting characterization and including sub-plots.

    I don't know if Mary would agree with me on this but (to me) writing a novel is a bit of a journey in itself and I think it sounds like you're (subconsciously) too keen to get to your destination. That's not uncommon but it can be overcome with application. I suggest you try seeing each chapter as you do a short story.