A Sample Short Story Outline

A Sample Short Story Outline

I’ve posted another short story, “Oliver Troubles”. Since we all create our outlines in our own way, I thought I’d share this one. Maybe it will give you some ideas. Maybe you’ll see some flaws in my method. Either way, I’d recommend reading the short story below before hitting the link for the full article.

This is the full outline without omissions. The only addition is the first paragraph of the Asperger’s notes.

Slug Line:

A socially inept serial killer targets drug dealers.


The protagonist, Nick Oliver, isn’t larger-than-life. Detective Scales can’t be either.

Using a twist on pulp fiction’s larger-than-life. More incompetent than life.

The protagonist, Oliver (Nick Oliver), has Asperger’s syndrome.

Detective Scales (Francis Scales) was promoted after 10 years in uniform mostly writing tickets. This is his second case. He hasn’t kept up his studies in police procedure. He’s almost as clueless as The Pink Panther.

Asperger’s notes:

Notes from other sources are always red in my rough drafts and outlines. I have re-written these notes because of the post. I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism. Normally I wouldn’t bother because the notes don’t go in the story. The text in black are my thoughts on the protagonist.

Asperger’s have difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, clumsiness.

They are obsessed with a single topic and talk about little else. What is Oliver’s obsession that transfers over to drug dealers? Trading things. He finds things on the street and trades them for other things at the pawn shop. Believes he gets a good deal because he gets “shooting movies” in return for stuff he doesn’t want. The clerk, Jeff, gives him a fair deal because he once dated Oliver’s mother and they’ve talked about his syndrome. Drug dealers are also trading things, mostly drugs for money but sometimes they accept stolen goods and Oliver got interested when he saw that.

They present many facts about their obsession without making a point.

They often don’t realize the other person isn’t interested.

People with Asperger’s do not withdraw from the world. They will often approach other people, but have problems with speech and language in social settings.

May have unusual body language. Oliver walks like a robot. “Mr Roboto” Pete and Paul call him.

They may not understand sarcasm or humor. May take a figure of speech literally.

They have trouble forming relationships with others because they:

Are unable to respond normally emotionally

Are inflexible about routines Oliver wants to sleep as soon as he’s sleepy and eat as soon as he’s hungry. That’s his motivation for going into the restaurant.

Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are very active, and may also be diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


“We don’t allow guns in this restaurant.” Intro to Oliver, who is borderline Asperger’s, as he is asked to leave a restaurant before he had ordered anything. Then paragraph tells how he has bumbled his way in. Sat down without waiting to be seated. Doesn’t know what he wants. Doesn’t say sorry or hello or give any of the right answers. Waitress gave him a minute and he was still bumbling and confused and abusive and then she saw his gun and asked him to leave. (This gun is a black plastic water gun, but it’s here so that the story starts with tension.)

Oliver has a conversation with himself out loud as he walks down the street. Talks about the drug dealers, Pete and Paul, who keep making fun of him. They call him “Mr Roboto” and push him. He doesn’t react. He recognizes they hurt him. Wants revenge. How does he get a gun? “Rob Pete to pay Paul”.

Oliver stops into a pawn shop to buy food. They don’t have food but the clerk, Jeff, knows him because he used to date his mother. Jeff calls a nearby convenience store to bring over a small milk and submarine sandwich for Jeff while they talk. “You got five bucks, Oliver? That will cover the food and delivery cost. You’re not listening. Do you have five bucks, Oliver?”

Oliver’s obsessions are trading, and “shooting movies”, so a bit of that while waiting for the food. After the food arrives (the clerk ignores Oliver), Oliver ignores Jeff while he eats.

The bell on the back service door rings. “That’s the guys picking up furniture. I’ll be back in a minute Oliver.” Jeff leaves and Oliver’s self talk goes back to the drug dealers as he finishes eating and wanders around the pawn shop. Gets to the gun case. He could hurt them with a gun.

The case is locked. “New stuff goes in cat boxes. Cat boxes for new stuff. Cat boxes.” There are a pile of cardboard boxes through the door to the back. He goes back there and sees Jeff and another man talking by a truck outside the loading bay door. “Must be quiet,” he whispers. He begins reading labels out loud. Example: “Cat. Elect. I pod.” Section ends when he reads “Cat. Firearms. 9mm automatic”.


Detective Scales (Francis Scales) investigates a man who has been stabbed to death by his wife. The wife has bruises on her face and arms, and is covered in blood. Scales believes her story about two men breaking in and attacking them. Is ready to start looking for the mystery killers.

One of the uniforms on site calls him over to talk away from the wife. Clues him in that the wife is clearly an abused woman. The bruises are not all from tonight. She is the primary subject according to police procedure. “You should be getting her prints and see if they match the ones on the knife. Abused women sometimes kill their abuser. Also, there is no sign of forced entry. It’s clear what happened here.” Scales remembers his police training now.

(Scales has fallen into a rut because he was a uniformed officer for too long. He was promoted after 10 years in uniform mostly writing tickets. He hasn’t kept up his studies in police procedure. He’s as clueless as The Pink Panther.) “Right. I remember now. Guess I was writing traffic tickets too long. It’s all coming back to me now.”


Oliver sees a drug dealer working out of an alley. Pulls his gun and tries to rob him but what he says doesn’t make sense to the dealer. They have a conversation that gets sillier and sillier until the dealer walks away. “Wrong way. Wrong way to do it. Need action. Action will do it.”

Oliver talks to a weirdo begging change. Says he needs drugs. The weirdo gets him agreeing he wants coke. Goes to a coke dealer with the weirdo, who also wants to know how much money he has. The reader can tell that the weirdo has only taken him to another bum’s place, but Oliver is clueless. He shoots and kills both of them believing he has killed drug dealers. Finds very little drugs or money. Takes both anyway. He calls the two guys weirdos, which means dealers to him. “Weirdos are drug dealers because drug dealers are weirdos.”


Scales is investigating the killing of the two bums in the run-down apartment building. None of the neighbors saw anything. Heard shots. Stayed in their apartments. Forensics is doing their job. An officer finds a bag of weed in a coffee can. Scales assumes the two were drug dealers who got ripped off and the weed was their personal use stash.


Oliver is talking to himself while eating a jumbo bag of lobster flavored chips on the street across from a small house with broken down cars in the yard. He hears someone say “Godot sent me” to get into the house. He repeats that several time while also reasoning out that these must be real drug dealers. (Need some roundabout way that he comes to that conclusion. Drug dealers have bad dogs in the yard just like this place with the rottweiler tied in the side yard and able to come around the front a bit. (The dog is constantly barking, either at visitors or at Oliver across the street.) “Weirdos are drug dealers because drug dealers are weirdos.” “Big time dealers here. Dealers coming to buy drugs. Big time. Big revenge. They’ll learn now.”

Oliver goes to the door while repeating “Godot sent me”. Uses it to get in. “Need drugs.” Pulls the gun and shoots the guy there. Another guy comes out of the back with a revolver, shoots at him and misses. Oliver shoots back and gets him in the balls. Oliver doesn’t know why the guy doesn’t die. Shoots him two more times. Finds lots of money and drugs this time. Puts everything in a grocery bag. There’s a knock at the door and he goes out the back.


Scales doesn’t see the clues. Misses the obvious pattern to the killings and doesn’t realize they are related. This could be kind of a big picture section talking about what he did at the second dealer killer crime scene.

Then, he decides to investigate by visiting known drug dealers, which tips them off that the cops know who they are.

We drop in on his visit to Pete Wise and Paul Warden, two dealers who live in a trailer at an auto wrecker’s. (These are the same two that torment Oliver.) When Scales leaves, they discuss whether they should skip town since the cops know where they are and that they’re drug dealers. “Fuck it. They probably knew who we were as soon as we started dealing. Number of people we have as customers.”


Oliver is watching the dealers who like to torment him. “The ultimate revenge. Big enemies. Have to be fast. Where do they live?” He follows them while pretending not to. They see him and yell insults.

He finds out where they live and there are lots of people going in and out of the trailer in the auto wrecking lot. “They walk right in. Open house.”


Pete and Paul are inside their trailer talking about hookers. One of them sees “that retard” on the surveillance camera. They chat a while longer and then see that Oliver is coming to see them. “This should be fun.”


Oliver is talking to himself again. Doesn’t remember his gun until he’s going up the steps to the door. Pete swings the door open with a big smile. Oliver shoots him in the chest. Paul kicks Oliver in the nuts. Oliver drops the gun and falls forward. “We’re going to have some fun now, right Pete?” Discovers Pete is dead. Grabs Oliver and starts pistol whipping him with his own gun.


Scales has discovered he lost his badge. He hears the shot while driving up the street to the trailer. Doesn’t know where it came from. The trailer door is closed. He hears Oliver yelling. Busts in the door with his gun drawn. Paul jumps up and points the gun at Scales. Scales shoots him dead.

The case can now be wrapped up. Pete and Paul were the ones killing dealers. They had the gun used in the killings. At the end, they turned against each other and Paul killed Pete.

Oliver is clearly a victim. Doesn’t seem to be a drug dealer because of the Asperger’s. “I ate a submarine earlier,” he says instead of answering Scales. “You can’t have guns on a submarine,” is his next response and clues Scales in that he is learning disabled. Is sent on the ambulance and Scales tells him to stay out of trouble. “Stay out of trouble. Good idea.”


I’m sure you noticed lots of differences between the outline and the story. It doesn’t bother me when the story wanders away from the outline. I’m visualizing the story as I write. If there’s a conflict between the outline and what I see while I’m writing, the outline is wrong.

I also know the outline will have plot holes, story problems, and some of its ideas won’t fit the story. Once the first draft of a short story is written, I’m done with the outline.

Does my method work? Was it a reasonable story or only pulp fiction? We’re not supposed to listen to critics, but go ahead. Tell me what you think.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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