Short Story Outline
OK: your character is named Jennifer. Is she a heroine? To be determined. Let's see where she takes us. Could
we make her a superhero? Literary fiction about a superhero? Has that been done? Look into this. Perhaps for
another story. Perhaps this one, if it's a page one rewrite.
OK, Jennifer. Jennifer is Roman Catholic. A Roman Catholic superhero? I can't shake that idea. Perhaps that
means something. But will it sell?
Back to Jennifer: a Roman Catholic Nurse. Side note: superhero could be The Nurse. Tracks down crooks, treats
them afterwards. It's like how Batman doesn't kill his victims, taken to an extreme degree. Batman in white.
Deadly with a clipboard. This could go somewhere.
But, oh, Jennifer: let's go. Roman Catholic Nurse. Not a single mother. Single mothers have been done, are
done. We don't need to go there. Marriage is done, too. This is literature for women who don't have kids. This is
an untapped market. This will sell.
So, yes, Jennifer – you are single. You will remain single. You're not even looking for love. Everyone's looking for
love these days. Love is done. Love is out. Side note: don't be so upfront about this in the text. People will
think you've just recently watched Down With Love. You haven't. But privately: this is Down With Love, but she
doesn't find love in the end. Remember, Jennifer, you're not even looking for love.
All right, so we have our Single Roman Catholic Nurse who isn't looking for love. She's not gay, either. Everyone's
making their characters gay. You're not gay, Jennifer. Isn't it possible for a woman to not be looking for love from
a man or a woman? What happened to those women? Jennifer, you will be the Emma for that kind of woman.
Speaking of – gosh, what's the title? You're Emma, but you're not going to be "Jennifer." That's bland. This
needs to sell. I can't call it "The Nurse." That's the superhero literary fiction title. Which, let's be honest, may still
happen. You punch a bank robber in the mouth than take his temperature. I need to keep that, remember that.
That will sell.
But Jennifer, back to our title: what's our title? You're a Single Roman Catholic Nurse who isn't looking for love
from a man or a woman. That's too long to be a title, but maybe it's a subtitle. Short stories never have
subtitles. Perhaps that's my in – John Carroll presents the first New Yorker short story with a subtitle. That's
bound to go on the wire, right? Papers will pick that up. People pick up papers. People buy New Yorkers. This is
our business plan.
We have a title, Jennifer. "Jennifer: A Single Roman Catholic Nurse Who Isn't Looking for Love from a Man or a
Woman." Coming to the New Yorker soon.
But what are you doing, Jennifer? The title almost begs the question. We've established so much. The reader is
about to skip the short story. But then they wonder: if you're not looking for love, what are you doing? Now we
have them, Jennifer. Excellent work.
Let's get back to it, though: Where are you? You're not at the hospital. That's too predictable. Sure, you're not
looking for love, but you're not some workaholic. Why would someone even think that? That's entirely predictable,
Jennifer, and if anything, we've established that you're not predictable.
I know: you're in Duane Reade. Yes, New York. Don't worry: two years ago, New York was predictable. Now
everyone's getting their characters out of New York. Let's bring them back to New York. You're bringing them
back, Jennifer. You're in Duane Reade.
What are you doing in Duane Reade, Jennifer? You're not looking for love. The stock boy in your aisle is
unattractive. In fact, he's wearing a wedding band. Off-limits. You're no homewrecker. How could you be?
You're not looking for love, remember.
You're looking at condoms, though. That's right, condoms. You're not looking for love. Not even for sex. You're
not one of those, Jennifer. No, here's what you do: you make balloon animals with condoms. It's your quirk.
Every character needs a quirk. I think they're calling it twee, Jennifer. Condom balloon animals: this is twee.
Come to think of it, though, do condoms present too much of an edge? Children read newspapers for the comics.
What if they come across our wire story? What if they pick up a New Yorker? Will this scar them? Is this
controversial to be twee? I think we've veered off into dark comedy, Jennifer.
No more condoms. You're looking at pens. You collect pens of every color. You find a navy blue pen. A lot of
people probably don't even know that navy blue pens exist. It's twee. It's informative. That's the New Yorker.
Jennifer! You look to your right. There's a kid there – not yours, remember, as you don't have kids, don't want
them, don't need them – and he's stuffing something into his shirt. He's shoplifting. You look back to your navy
blue pens. There's a half-dozen there. You want it, but you feel somewhat certain there will be navy blue pens
You call for the young man's attention. He knows what you want. He saw you put the navy blue pen – which he
didn't know existed – down. He runs. Little does he know, you run three miles every morning. You're fit. Note to
self: establish this earlier in the story, or people will find this too convenient. Note it as casually as possible. You
don't want people to think it will play any part in the end of the story. In fact, Jennifer, we'll write about your entire
workout, as well as your protein shake, to throw them off the scent. Don't let them dwell on your running, Jennifer.
You're giving chase, Jen. (Can I call you Jen?) You'll note something – and do it wryly, Jennifer, as you're a very
wry single Roman Catholic Nurse who isn't looking for love from a man or a woman – about all of the independent
coffee shops next to the Starbucks. That will resonate beyond New York. People in Iowa subscribe to The New
Yorker, Jennifer. You should know that: you lived there in your early 20s. Note to self: see how many Starbucks
there are in Iowa.
Your juvenile bolts into traffic. But you saw it coming. You saw him eyeing an opening and took off moments
before him. You go at him at an angle. You tackle him, and you do it at the median. Safety first, Jennifer.
Remember, you're a nurse.
The boy is struggling to free himself from your grip. You reach into the jacket and pull out the box he's stuffed
into his jacket. Robitussin. The extra-sized bottle. He looks up at you. Ma'am, he says, I'm sick. I just need to
get better, get back to school.
Jennifer: pick him up. Dust him off. Keep the Robitussin. Look him in the eye. I'll get you better, you tell him.
But first – but first, Jennifer! – we must take him to the police. Then to the Duane Reade. For while you'll nurse
him back to health over the coming days, you must first concern yourself with the law.
For you are The Nurse. And you concern yourself with not just the health of your patients, but with the health of
Now, Jennifer, I'll bang this out and get it to the New Yorker. Let's meet again tomorrow. We must begin hashing
out the screenplay.
John Carroll, a lifetime resident of Philadelphia, currently lives and writes in the southern part of the city. He is a
full-time staff member at the Kelly Writers House, a center dedicated to the writing arts at the University of
Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. John is the former Arts and Culture Editor of The Evening Bulletin. His previous
work includes A Place to Stand Productions, an experimental mail network. John currently blogs at
www.bananagrabbers.com, where he posts experimental poetry and photos, among other things. A short story of his
will appear in the forthcoming Philly Fiction 2, published by Don Ron Books.