Using Short Stories to Plot a Rough Draft

 

by Steven Capps

 

Let’s discuss plotting. Not the evil, “let’s take over the world” kind, though I guess that does fit. I’m talking about the events that create a story. Specifically, I’m talking about the events that create my stories and how I go about developing them.

I need to qualify the individual nature of this topic, because every process is different and there are no right answers. If you want to give my approach a try, fantastic. If you think its total crap, that’s cool too. As long as you are not throwing cabbage at your keyboard, you are only doing it wrong if it isn’t working for you. I call this “patchwork plotting” because it is a combination of a few different plotting methods and a bit of discovery writing as well.

 

Outlines turn an Idea into a Story

First, I outline. Many people outline and many people do not. Both are acceptable. In fact, I think most writers do a bit of both, and even though I outline the major scenes in my works, I often discovery write the details during those scenes.

The basis of my outline stems from Dan Well’s 7 Point Plot Structure. The elevator pitch of this theory is that there are seven integral elements of every story. By plotting these out ahead of time, they can guide your plot and keep it focused. If interested, click on the link above to watch the YouTube videos because he does a far better job explaining than I ever could.

Once I have my major points outlined, I use Jim Butcher’s Scene Worksheet to get the heart of every scene written down on paper. This includes things like the viewpoint character, primary motivation, primary conflict, and things along that. above is a link to his post on the subject that includes so you can see for yourself.

 

Using Short Stories to Create a Novel

At this point, I have 7 scenes with solid direction that progress my story from beginning to end. These do not flow together, in fact, they don’t have much in regards to their individual plot lines. I develop these points by outlining individual short stories that end with the character completing each specific plot point.

My idea is that anyone should be able to pick up one of these scenes and read it beginning to end and feel okay about the result. Some may have a cliffhanger (which I hate) but that is only because I know that the cliffhanger will be used to draw the reader further into the book. In between the scenes, I devise sequels though often it is just enough to tie the short stories together.

 

Variation & Weaving

In addition, these short stories create the basis for sub-plots because I try to not repeat the same type of short story for multiple different points. If my climax is focused on a fight between characters, then I will do my best to not make a fight the centerpiece of the inciting incident. This gets a little confusing, so let me explain.

Since each scene is told through one of my viewpoint characters, what that specific character is doing becomes the centerpiece of the scene. With this in mind, the character could be in a fight with a thug for pinch number 1, but the scene only becomes a “fight” for plot purposes if that is what the viewpoint character is trying to do. If the viewpoint character is trying to escape during a mugging and happens to throw a punch, that isn’t the same thing as a character who is actively trying to beat someone else to death.

So once I’ve gotten a story idea down for each plot piece, I can jump around and write any of them at any point. Every short story will have their own rising action, climax, and resolution but will progressively grow as the story expands.

Here’s another example: Let’s say my opening scene shows a town hit by a drought as part of the setting. The wooden homes splintered and dry. The creek carries nothing but dust. This piece of info might be tangential to the short story for the introduction. Maybe, pinch number 1 is how a character accidentally catches a tavern on fire and has to find some rare book while trying to put out the inferno. The Midpoint might be a character rushing into to the tavern and saving them. Pinch 2 might be a wall collapsing and catching an adjacent building on fire.

 

Maintaining the Outline

The key is that none of these are really what the story is about. The story was outlined with specific goal, NOT events. This little pieces of interconnectedness helps tie the short stories together and makes the novel feel more like a cohesive whole than an anthology. In addition, the connective threads could be a romance, or heist, or pretty much anything and I always put in multiple different interconnected strands.

The biggest takeaway of this approach is that the story is never about these strands–no matter how pretty they become–and it is about weaving all of them into the story you envisioned. Writers who become enamored by the color of the thread run the risk of tying a knot in their story that they can’t unravel unless they cut it out completely.

 

Rough Drafts as Plot

Once I have this skeleton, I start writing my rough draft. Honestly, my rough drafts are so bad I don’t even like calling them first drafts, they are closer to zero drafts. I don’t mean this a self-depreciating knock on my writing, but because I am trying to write the centerpiece of each scene as quickly as I can.

I want to get the primary bit of the story down on paper including everything from the sounds of their boots while they walk to what they say in conversation, but I don’t give two shits if the writing is good or not. I am performing several dozen sprints in order to get the idea on to the page. Once I have done this for everything, I essentially have a really shitty version of the novel that someone could suffer through but it would read like a novel and not an outline.

This is how I plot. This doesn’t mean I have a good plot at the end, in fact, my revision process is essential to making it not complete crap. I need to have all of this done or I won’t be able to get into revision, which is my favorite part of my writing process.

 

 

 

Alternately titled Patchwork Plotting: My Awful Process of Writing a Draft.

Guest post contributed by Steven Capps. Steven is a writer with an insatiable hunger for the fantasy and science fiction genre. His writing has been featured in publications such as Fiction, The Bird & Dog, Survival Prepper, Survival Sullivan, Markit Bulgaria, and The Cass County Star Gazette. His blog’s goal is to create a place to talk about improving writers’ craft as well as learn about the industry.

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13 thoughts on “Using Short Stories to Plot a Rough Draft”

  1. Very useful. I have an idea in development at the moment that I had got a bit stuck with: I have an outline – but I don’t want it to be too specific, and I am not ready to start disco writing yet, so this bridges that action gap. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Like what you suggest and do Steven. As you point out at the beginning we are all different and have various ways of approaching our work. Nevertheless, it is good to see how others go about it and to be able to try, and perhaps adopt, some of the processes. Thank you fo sharing.

    Like

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