I started writing as a pantser in high school. Organizing felt like wringing the life out of my stories. The longer I’ve written, the more I’ve come to appreciate outlines and planning ahead. There is still plenty of room for my stories to come to life, and I’m seldom surprised by where the narrative goes.
Outlining starts at the top level with the broad strokes of the story I want to tell. In a novel this is generally some variation of the three act structure. In short stories, the outlining is even more important because of the limited space in the narrative. Both give me a roadmap to follow while I write, but still allow the characters to live on the page.
The short story still has a condensed three act structure, a beginning, middle, and end. I only follow one point of view character in my short stories, multiple POV’s can distract readers in brief narratives. Instead, I try to focus on the elements of the story that show character growth. There is only room to show or tell so much in so few words.
In a novel the space an author has for character, setting, plot, and details is far greater than a short story. But the same principles apply. The main outline breaks down into chapter outlines, I have also used a spreadsheet to correlate chapters and characters between books for series. The spreadsheet is especially helpful if events in those books overlap in time.
Outlines are also helpful when I think of dialogue and internal thoughts before I’ve written a scene. These snippets don’t always make it into the final version of the story, but they help me plan out what will happen. Characters and events can still change as I write, but the goal of the outline helps me steer those wily critters where I need them.
I’m not trying to convert pantsers into plotters, but this is what worked for me. Everyone has to find a process that works for them. Outlining was the ticket for me, but I’m by no means locked into plotting. If an idea strikes me as better than what I’ve outlined, I have rewritten scenes on the fly. That works for me too, so my advice is, as always, write. Whatever works for you, is the way for you to go, but give this outlining a shot. It may help.