The plot of your story, boiled down to the basics, is what happens.
If you are a plotter, you may have created a general idea or detailed idea of this in your outlining stage. If you are not a plotter, or you were a plotter who deviated from their outline, now would be the time to create an outline. Not because you need it to write your story, but because it’s a helpful tool for self-editing.
NOTE: Today’s self-editing topic revolves around creating an outline. For those authors who do not use outlines, we have created a worksheet to use instead. Feel free to download the worksheet with our compliments:
And now… let’s get to outlining!
This is a helpful tool for a more cohesive story edit because it allows you to see your story at a glance. The one you actually put onto paper. That’s why the idea for this type of post-outline method is relies on what happened/happens.
If you haven’t created this yet, make a note to create your post-outline. With short fiction, this should be fairly simple.
Ideally, this method will work the best if you can break your manuscript down into scenes, the small sections of the overall story. By doing so, you can give yourself a comprehensive self-edit that can save you editing frustrations later on.
Can you already see some issues in either version of the outlines?
What is Your Dramatic Question?
The dramatic question is a way to ask your story’s goal. What did you want to happen in your story? What was the conflict presented that the character had to overcome?
Story Goal Example: Character A must defeat Character B.
Dramatic Question: Will Character A defeat Character B?
The dramatic question should be present in every scene of a short fiction piece. The reader should not have to ask what the goal of the story is, or why certain parts are there. This spans from chapters to sentences to word-level cuts.
As you work through the outline you made, do you notice any sections of story that don’t serve your dramatic question? If so, time to cut it from the manuscript.
“But I hate cutting my work to pieces!
I worked really hard on that scene/chapter…”
I have a special story for you, completely and utterly from a reader’s perspective. When you cut those sections of the story out… save them. Yes, it’s true, you put a lot of work into those scenes, but sometimes they just don’t have a place in this story. The information may not apply to the overall actions, or there was no real movement forward, or you may write it with the wrong POV Character… so cut them from your story with pride. Then use them as Bonus Scenes that are story-related but separate pieces of the story. These bonus scenes are really fun ways to connect with your readers who adore your universe. You can also revise the scenes to create another part of your world, a continuation or prequel for yet another standalone adventure.
Challenges and Trials: External Conflict
We covered this in our post on 6 Elements of Characterization, but now we are going to step back and look at the external conflicts overall.
Do you have one too many scenes where the character doesn’t have a setback or a breakthrough?
Short stories, unlike longer fiction forms, are an important artform with specific external conflict needs, one that does not allow for long story lulls. A few lackluster pages/scenes in a short story can easily sink the story. That is why, when you are writing them, you are slowly conquering kingdoms to earn your crown in tight and concise stories.
Check through your outline, be as subjective as you can to the plot itself. Ask yourself if the scene/section serves the overall dramatic question. Also, did you notice any overdone conflict, or trials and challenges that have nothing – or very little to do with – the dramatic question of the story? It’s easy to get so focused on creating conflict, you can accidentally over-create. If your plot flows smoothly and your characters are solid, the conflict will write itself.
This is just one of the infinite options for how you can format an outline.
Use whatever works best for you.
Self-Editing Technique: The Backward Plot
You’ve checked it forward – now check it backward. Open a new file on your computer, or get a blank sheet of paper out. We’re going to make sure it functions from end to beginning.
With a backward plot, you start from your last scene. Sometimes, you learn you caught everything in the first check, but other times, you may see added bits of detail missed or things that needed foreshadowing.
Cause and effect are so important to a backward plot, especially since you’ll be reading it as effect and cause. Did everything you wanted to happen have a motivation? Did it have a reason to be there? Or did was an effect/cause desired?
Even if your plot is perfect, this is also an easy and fun way to check your foreshadowing! Break down a ‘big reveal’ in the story like you are an episode of What’s New Scooby-Doo, and the gang is doing a tell-all for the villain they’ve just captured. Did all the subtle, or not-so-subtle, hints make it onto the page?
This only needs to be done in a way that you can read it. Below, I’ve shown a minor example of just a brain-map style that connects the dots in a backward plot. You may do this in your regular plot outline and feel you’ve captured all the points. The backward plot is just another option to see your plot differently.
What’s Next Week’s Topic?
Pacing is huge in short fiction! So huge, in fact, that it will make a story soar high – or burn as it falls from the sky. It’s that important. Next week, we’ll cover the different plotting structures and how knowing those structure can improve your manuscript’s pacing. Don’t miss it!