Outlining a short story

There’s a new short story contest up at the Straight Dope board, and I decided that this time, I was going to put some more thought into outlining it, not just start writing the first idea I thought of when I got the prompt.

That wasn’t particularly easy. I had a notion what I wanted to do when I started, mostly because of the picture, which had a clock and a bell hanging from a chain, (which immediately made me think of time travel or time manipulation,) but when I tried to apply what I’d learned in Kansas and from other workshops and classes over the past year, I kept ending up on storylines that were missing conflict, or a good antagonist, or something else important like that.

And time was somewhat running out – the contest rules specify that you have sixty hours from when you collect the prompt – I sent in my email yesterday morning before leaving for Christmas with the family, (hoping that I’d be able to mull over ideas in the back of my mind,) and so I need to have my finished story in by tomorrow night.

This evening, though, after I printed off some handouts from Julie Czerneda’s site, things suddenly started to fall into place. I ended up writing nearly 1800 words in an hour and a bit, some of which will have to get cut to finish the outline in under 2000 words, but it’s a great start, and I think that I’ll keep the entire first draft without cuts to refer to later. I’d been mulling over the idea of enclosed spaces where time runs slower or faster than normal, and then got an idea about one possible application of ‘fast time bottles’ that really got things moving.

Here’s the outline that I’ve been working off. Note that ‘sequel’ is a technical term that I learned from James Gunn in the Kansas workshop – it’s not a seperate work of fiction, but a kind of scene that’s less active and conflict-driven than the usual kind, but serves to bridge between proper scenes.

Protagonist: Darlene Pritchard, the customer service director for TimeBubble Inc.

Antagonist: Bob Clarkson, a nuclear energy magnate.

Supporting: Jasmine Holbrooke, Bob’s 18 year old girlfriend.

Supporting: Zeke Sanford, the CEO of TimeBubble.

Supporting: Michael York, a temporal engineer.

Scene 1 – Bob and Jasmine come to see Darlene on a regular sales appointment.
Goal: Darlene wants to sell Bob on a regular stasis berth.

Conflict: Bob and Jasmine seem uninterested in stasis, and keep asking questions about inverting the timebubble effect.

Disaster: Bob and Jasmine confess their plan, which horrifies Darlene’s sense of ethics, but Bob swears that he’ll go directly to Zeke if he has to.

Scene 2 – Darlene talks to Zeke about the accelerated learning plan.
Goal: Darlene wants to persuade Zeke to throw out the idea.

Conflict: With each objection, Zeke figures out solutions and seems more excited about the new line of business than anything.

Disaster: Zeke calls in Bob and Jasmine to promise them that he’ll get this done.

Sequel – Darlene goes to Michael to complain.

Reaction: Darlene beats herself up over not being able to convince Zeke – or Jasmine, for that matter, and moans about how bad this pilot could turn out for Jasmine and the other volunteers who agree to stay inside.

Dilemma: In tossing around possible next steps with Mike, Darlene conceives the idea of staying inside the plan building herself, as a company representative to monitor, and maybe evacuate the kids or pull the plug on the pilot if it starts going too badly wrong. Struggles with whether she could do that, and if it would appear to be giving the plan her blessing.

Decision: Darlene calls Zeke, presents him with the plan for taking the last spot, and he wishes her a happy four years.

2 Responses to Outlining a short story

  1. Regina says:

    Sounds like it hashed out like it should. Thanks for the site recommendation of Julie. I’ll check it out. Sometimes I get stuck as well. Best wishes. 🙂


  2. This is very detailed and well done. i might have to steal this outline sometime!


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