How to Properly Outline a Short Story

It is really important that authors-to-be learn how to properly outline a short story (I call them Shorty's). Writers tend to get overly excited about their ideas as a new best-selling novel. When in fact, you've probably overwhelmed yourself into a state of not writing at all. I've been there. But shorty's are the only way to properly train your mind into organization for a novel.

Think about it; a shorty is metaphoric, straight to the point with nothing in between. Novels have more depth, more conversation. But what is the point of all that talk if there isn't a good outline? Now that I have your attention forget about writing the next best-seller and concentrate on the basics. No matter how advanced you are in writing, your skills mean nothing if they aren't organized.


Introductions are so important to any story. Your opening must catch the reader's attention. Be careful, the first two sentences of your shorty will determine if your readers determine whether or not they should continue. For example, you DO NOT want to start your story with Amy was sad. Ick, I've thrown your story away. You must be simple but intriguing; Amy turned her head toward the sky, letting the rain mingle with her tears. Huzzah! You now have a fabulous introduction, and I want to know why your character is so heart broken.

Setting & Time

Ironically, locations are really important to a shorty. The presence in which your shorty takes place should be introduced in the second sentence; at least the first paragraph. Remember, it's not about telling your readers where they are, it's about making them feel they just entered your story. 

For example, we would never say it was 1560 in Scotland and Queen Mary was dead. Rather, we use descriptions like, Queen Mary was forcefully abdicated, leaving her city state vulnerable to the Catholic overthrow. Now, that's juicy stuff!


Now, every story needs a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist must ALWAYS have human characteristics. If your hero/heroine cannot be related to than no one will cheer for them. You protagonist must be in search of something with a want for achievement  Even if you kill off your hero/heroine, they better be fighting for something. 

The antagonist of your story is the one who constantly finds a way to disrupt your protagonists goals. You can make your protagonist be their own worst enemy.

Point of View

Now, pay attention. Many authors like to use first person writing but it comes with a cost. If you choose a character to narrate a story, they have to be where the action is 24/7. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. Third person is recommended for beginning authors. It is easier to narrate the story. And if you ever use second person in a shorty, well, at least you tried.

Inciting Incident

This is where writing a story gets very difficult. Your characters must have incentives in order to pursue their journey to success or failure. This is the event that gets your hero/heroine going. But be careful, your story must correlate with your incident. 

For example, Harry Potters world turned upside down when he finally got hold of a letter; a very special letter telling him he was a wizard. His entire life changed at that moment.


Pick your climax very carefully. This is the point of your shorty where the antagonist gets in the way. This is the moment where your hero/heroine will either win, lose, or draw. Especially in short stories, you must offer a lesson to your readers. You want to make them feel change. 

For example, the climax of the Lord of the Rings was the death of Gandalf the Grey. The audience had grown to love and respect this elder. His death changed the hearts of every reader. Why? Because it effected the hero, Frodo Baggins.


This is where your story completes itself in a powerful, compelling and indelible way. DO NOT weaken your story with a limp ending. Your ending should effect every single character created, good and bad. Remember the death of Voldemort in Harry Potter. Not only did it strike happiness and relief in the protagonists but it enveloped fear and change in the hearts of the antagonists.

Now, go get writing!

This entry was posted on 12 May, 2013 and is filed under ,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

2 Responses to “How to Properly Outline a Short Story”

  1. You've summed it up beautifully. Reminds me of gems I got from the book STORY by Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru. It's all about story. Thanks, James.

    1. Thank you, dearly, for your kind words. And yes, Robert Mckee has many treasures in his book. He helped me become a better content writer from the business side of the publishing industry.