For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been focusing more on my flash fiction. My current WIP 30 pages short story is on its way to a third draft, but I’m in no rush to go over it again. As a matter of fact, I’m dreading it. I feel tired of it. It was exciting when I originally wrote it, but it’s boring now.
I think it’s because I wrote the outline first.
Before you jump me with torches and pitchforks, hang on! I’m with you guys, I come in peace. The outline itself is not the problem; its’ what it is not. Let me explain.
The one thing I do right when I write my flash fiction is to let the plot develop. I don’t hold back. I do the same thing with an outline: I write it, let it expand, create more of a story out of it… but then it’s time to write the real story.
The outline is not the story. It’s not even the plot. An outline should be kind of the table of contents of the story. The outline should be used as a guide, a map of sorts for the story, and that is not the case for me. What I did was to wrote the story itself in an outline, and then tried to make a story out of it again, a second time.
Think about it this way: if the outline is like a map, it must be created after there’s a world to map. You can’t create a map of a world that doesn’t yet exist. The same is true for your story.
So what about all these writers who have outlines before they have an actual story? Well, I’d argue that what they create is not really an outline, it’s more of a story in pieces. They just attach it later in an order that makes sense to them and close plot holes where they see them.
The longer a story is, especially if you have to write it in different and distant time periods, the more you need an outline, a map of what you’ve already created as a reminder — not what you’re about to create next.
For me personally, flash fiction works. The next step is to write the another story that connects to the first. Between the first and second part, however, I should create an outline of what I wrote. Here is the process in a diagram:
The key is that the outline is created with the story, not at its beginning, before any plotting is done. I believe the issues I had with the outlining before happened because I didn’t know where the outline ends and the actual story begins. I worked with two different stories in a way: one was my actual draft, and the other the outline. Worse: I kept looking at my outline to tell me what I should write next. This means that the map which should tell me what I’ve already written became the story itself. The metaphor fits here as well, as the result is a flat, two dimensional story without an essence of a real work.
The next time I write, I will try to write my outline every time I’m done writing that day. It will contain much of what my outline looks like now: a brief summary of the plot, the characters, what the conflict is, and why I think it’s important. I could even add more helpful information such as word count or comments about where I see potential problems. This will also allow me to write longer stories without forgetting my plot or without worrying about losing my “muse” or mood of the story.
Writing this way, I imagine, would also aid with describing the story better (in a blurb), help me discuss the story better, and might even be used as a pitch to send to a publisher. It really is a useful tool this way, not something that stands in the way pretending to be a draft. I’m excited to give it a go.