Some writers say they simply start writing having no notion about the story. They simply let the flow of words dictate where the story goes. I do something similar when I brainstorm, but when it comes to writing a story, I’m structured and organized.
In my IT career, I was the same way. I would experiment by writing code heuristically, but when it came to creating a computer application, I performed detailed analyses and design — figuring out what the application would do, how it would do it, and what the end result would look like — before cutting code.
As I’ve developed my writing craft skills, I’ve become a strong believer in story structure. The approach I’m using on short stories is to decide on the target word count, determine the word count for each step in the story structure, and then organize an outline for the plot points. This means that at every point in the story, I know how many words are needed, which allows me to know I’m on target for staying near my word count goal.
The items in the outline can contain very little or a great deal of information, typically from my brainstorming sessions. For example, for a recent short story, the Reaction step (the first quarter of the second act) said, “Boy talks with Friend about his plan to slay dragons. Friend tries to talk Boy out of trying to slay dragons.” From that I needed to create 760 words. This is where discovery writing comes into play; and, magically, it came together. It was thrilling.
Often, as the writing progresses, more ideas reveal themselves requiring adjustments to the outline, but those normally fit. Story elements that occur in one area turn out to be useful in another. And foreshadowing events pop out to help unify the story.
I spend time every evening exploring story ideas, but once those ideas are solid, I find having structure and an organized plan makes the writing of those ideas fun, and I always know where I’m going.
Word Count Goals for a 6,000 Word Short Story