Using an Outline to Stick to a Deadline

In the last few posts I’ve begun to offer my own experiences as a helpful guide to tackling the 52 week short story writing challenge.  Though that last sentence was a bit of a mouthful, the next one is short enough to make up for it.  Today’s post is about using outlines.

Finishing one short story per week is challenging, even in a good week.  My greatest struggle was sitting down to write, often with very little time to work within, and finding myself unable to compose my thoughts.  Even with notes I would fumble with where my story should go next, how to end it or when to introduce a character.  Only in the cases when I had an outline did I seem to finish a story on time.  The outline, it would seem, was an integral part of making the most of each day’s writing time.

Whether your idea of outlining is highly structured story components, laid out in a particular order or not matters very little in my opinion.  The important part of the outline is to help you writing with fewer pauses.  My outlines typically included the following key components:

  1. A brief description of each character
  2. Where and how the story begins
  3. A brief description of the place or places in which the story takes place
  4. Rough details regarding the steps that the characters will take to reach the story’s climax
  5. An ending for the story in at least rough detail

Every part of my outline helped me avoid confusion or time consuming rewriting.  But the fifth step in the outline proved to be the most important for me.  If I did not clearly understand the end of the story then I would typically wind up rewriting the middle, or in some cases the entire story.

In your outline you may want to follow some more refined advice, and there’s a lot of it out there.  A search on your preferred Internet search engine for words like “outline short story” will yield many different results, all with varying attitudes toward outlining stories.  You may go with a very involved process in which you almost have your story written before you finish your outline.  That’s an extremely involved outline, but it might be the key to your success in this type of time constrained challenge.  If you finish one story per week consistently then whatever you are doing is working fine for you.  And that’s the main point of any advice that I give in these posts.  What worked for me may not be right for you.

Whether you come up with your own way of utilizing an outline or disregard outlines entirely is up to you.  If you’re not sure what is right then consider using the outline as a starting point and abandoning it in the event it starts to feel too constraining.



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