Using Flash Fiction As An Outline #amwriting

I’ve done Story A Day May for five years, now. Last year, I intended every story to feed into a collection of various previously established characters of mine. The ones based in the SAGE world, I collected, along with some others, into SHIFTY. But, in 2014, I wrote one called Salali and Vernando. That also ended up in SHIFTY, but not quite in the form I had thought.

If you follow the link and read the entry, you’ll see that what I have is a bare-bones tale, with a segment in the middle that merely catalogs action. I also had a notion that everything I wrote would be only the first part of an adventure tale.

When I started expanding the story, I front-loaded A LOT of explication, backstory, and world-building into the running-away section. I tend to do that, damn my eyes. I put so much on the story’s head, it falls over backward and can’t get up off the floor. But, because I had written all that detail, I was able to cut almost all of it out and merely touch on it, using telling details in place of elaborate paragraphs. While I was at it, I added an encounter that turned out fortuitous, as such encounters so often are in fairy tales.

I was wrong about the continuation. The longer section of the story stub turned out to be the only adventure in it. In a way, that’s too bad, because I do like a tale that goes on and on, with chases and narrow escapes and magic combs and such. This one ended up as sort of a locked-room adventure, I guess.

THE POINT IS, I’ve turned quite a few flash fiction pieces into longer stories, and stories into novels.

Pick the story apart. Each thing that happens is a plot point. Each plot point can be expanded and/or bracketed by rests between the beats. Room can be made for subplots. And this can all be done formally, with Roman Numerals and Capital Letters, or informally, by the seat of the pants, with the short version serving as a series of torches to show the way.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Find a piece of flash fiction, yours or someone else’s, and turn it into an outline. Think about how it could be expanded into a longer piece.


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I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Using Flash Fiction As An Outline #amwriting

  1. Dan Antion

    June 12, 2017 at 7:40am

    I think it’s pretty amazing that you can even write a story a day. Beyond that is gravy and other toppings too good to mention.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 12, 2017 at 7:45am

      There are toppings better than gravy? ~drooling~ Ooo, have you ever had poutine? OMG!!!! French fries AND gravy?!?!?! I had some at a food truck in Louisville.

      • Dan Antion

        June 12, 2017 at 8:47am

        I have a friend who, years ago, started dipping french fries in mashed potatoes. It’s amazing. I suppose, you could dip the whole thing in gravy. Gotta stop, I’m making myself hungry.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 12, 2017 at 4:16pm

      Very true! Sometimes, instead of bones, all you have are a few story seeds– or a handful of magic beans. πŸ™‚ There’s no telling where a story might go.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 12, 2017 at 4:17pm

      Or are you talking about the stories that get so rambling, you can’t follow a sensible thread through them?

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    June 12, 2017 at 3:23pm

    The temptation to plunk large chunks of exposition (telling) into a story needs to be resisted mightily. It can almost always be saved for later and dropped in with an eye-dropper instead, just in time.

    I read a novel recently (I don’t read much, but I had an ulterior motive). It was ‘bit of dialogue’, big chunk of exposition; repeat over and over and over. I quit after a few chapters, went to the end of the story – where the author was STILL doing it! – and skimmed the end. It was exhausting to me as a reader; as a writer I knew WHY it was affecting me, but most readers wouldn’t – they’d just be tired and grumpy.

    I have a rule: if the character wouldn’t think something exactly that way right now, it doesn’t go in. Anything that is disguised, but is really information for the READER, gets dumped if I possibly can. I had to revise my first scene – because there was no reason for Kary to think of her agent as Elise Carter – she would think of her as Elise. But it is a constant temptation to just go with it.

    We writers work far harder than anyone realizes.

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 12, 2017 at 4:21pm

      It IS hard not to put those helpful identifying bits in, and I confess I’ve probably done it, just because it was down and dirty, and it irritates me, as a reader, to go, “Who the hell is Elise?” You manage to make it smooth, though. Have you read any Philip K. Dick? He drops you smack in the middle of a science fiction world with no more help than Jane Austen gave, as if the reader was already part of that world and didn’t need any help. Damned irritating, but kind of exhilarating, too.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        June 12, 2017 at 5:27pm

        I think the writer is supposed to do the work so that the question, ‘Who is Elise?’ is answered just before it drives the reader to distraction.

        And when the reader realizes the writer is going to do this for everything, and make sure the reader 1) has a chance to figure things out, and 2) is going to have confirmation (if they figured out the answer) or the answer (if they didn’t and are about to become annoyed), then the reader can settle down and enjoy the ride.

        What this does for me is that, if the reader trusts me, I can occasionally put in a piece that will stick in the subconscious, and not get answered until BOOK THREE. And, of course, some pieces are put in for color or tone or some other reason, though I try to make them do triple duty.

        We tend to write the kinds of books we’d like to read, so these are really presents to myself that I hope to share. They usually are part of the polish, not the first thing that falls out of my head. I don’t do drafts of the whole, but definitely of individual scenes (that’s as much as I can hold in my head at once). By the time I’ve finished my editing, and editing to make sure someone sounds Irish, and Autocrit has indicated that I’ve used ‘get’ 14 times so I’ve tweaked those into less repetitious phrasing, my brain has had time for the pices to coalesce as a whole – and give me Easter eggs. I have no idea where any of it comes from, but the process seems to produce it.

        I don’t analyze other writers much, but now I really notice the info dumps and start thinking of how I would put the information in differently, and it takes me out of the story world. That’s the risk you take when you write. Hadn’t noticed Dick does or doesn’t do this – will pay attention.

        • Author

          Marian Allen

          June 13, 2017 at 7:46am

          “I think the writer is supposed to do the work so that the question, β€˜Who is Elise?’ is answered just before it drives the reader to distraction.” Best. Tip. Ever. lol! And, of course, you’re absolutely right when you say that, once you win the reader’s trust, you can make more demands of them than they would tolerate from a writer who just plays tricks or who makes lazy demands.

  3. joey

    June 12, 2017 at 8:39pm

    Kinda like writing the blurb. Instead of condensing into blurb, you’re exploding into detail. I’m NOT good at these exercises, and I know you are. I am quite content to admire your work. For now. πŸ˜‰

    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 13, 2017 at 7:49am

      My friends in the Green River Writers, over in Louisville, call it “breaking open the moment.” I’ve heard others call it “unpacking the point.” And you are SO GOOD at what you do! I would totally buy and read and review a book of your blog posts. πŸ™‚

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