Am I Supposed to “Pants” This?

I don’t have a lot of experience writing short stories. Am I supposed to outline them before I start writing? Do I plan? What’s the procedure here?

Over the long course of writing Thirteen Treasures, I’ve discovered that I work better as a “Plotter.” If nothing else, when the plot is outlined, I know what I need to write when I sit down at the computer every morning. Even if I only manage to eek out a few hundred words, I’m confident that I’m on the right track. When I used to work without a detailed outline, I’d sit down and have no clue what to do or what to write next. I almost always ended up with endings that were ridiculous and unsatisfying.

But short stories feel different to me. Maybe it’s because I have Ray Bradbury whispering in my head to write from my subconscious dreamland and let the deep-seeded obsessions of my childhood be my guide, but writing a short story from a detailed outline feels like overkill, as if the weight of the outline will crush the delicacy of the story. Or maybe that’s hogwash. I don’t know; I’m new at this.

Title First, Story Later

So I’m gonna start with my titles and hope that story ideas follow on their heels.

Story #1: “Lightning in the Black Bottle”

Story #2: “The Treasures Three” (this one is going to be in the same universe as my Merlin’s Last Magic serial)

Story #3: “Song Child”

Story #4: “Things” (yeah, I’m getting real creative here…)

Novella Title: Avalon Summer

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve been thinking about Avalon Summer and the story I want to tell for almost ten years. It’s part memoir, part fantasy, and it began life as an R.E.M. song. More specifically, two songs, which came out when I was eleven, and which always makes me think of summers at my grandmother’s and the melancholy that comes with growing up.

“Nightswimming” and “Find the River” have become  almost mystical songs for me at this point, telling the story and the mood of a time in my life that is at once real and unreal, actual and imagined, something that happened and something I dreamed would happen, the two  sides — memoir and fantasy — swirling together so completely that it’s hard to tease any of the threads apart. “Nightswimming” is about the past, about remembering; “Find the River” is about the end of something, of the river flowing, of the march of time — the bitter-sweetness that comes from searching. It’s hard to describe the effect these songs have on me, but perhaps the best way to describe it is to write the story. After all, “story” is what we create when we can’t explain. Stories are how we communicate the elusive ideas.

It’s pretty obvious from the description of my Merlin serial that I’m interested in Arthurian legends, and it’s an interest that began when I was a kid. Rosemary Sutcliff’s books about King Arthur were transformational, and much of my childhood was spent playing “knights” (i.e.: running around my grandmother’s four acres with wooden swords, pretending trees were dragons).

I know that Avalon Summer has to have a forest in it. There must also be an evening spent eating Chinese food and playing the Dark Tower board game. At some point, an iron-wrought gate must figure in. And a bookstore. These are my ideas, but I’m not sure yet how they hang together, how I thread them into a tale.

More to come, I guess…