I have a love-hate relationship with outlines. On the one hand, outlines force you to do all the hard parts all at once, up front, which sucks and can take forever. On the other hand—they force you to do all the hard parts at once, up front—helping you avoid pitfalls that might cost you significant word count later, and meaning that once you get to the actual writing, it will be smooth(ish) sailing! Or at the very least, easier than it otherwise would be.
So how do you go from killer idea to awesome outline? First off, it helps to remember that the outline is not the law: it’s more like a guideline, really. The second thing to remember is that writing things down—and saying them aloud, too—allows different parts of your brain to work on your idea. So, the sooner you start getting bits of your idea down, and the sooner you start talking about it, the more of your brain you can bring to bear on shaping your idea. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first go round—writing it down is part of the process.
There are as many different methods for outlining as there are authors out there. That being said here is one method I’ve used and recommend for quickly and efficiently turning your idea into an outline.
Step 1: Find the Heart of Your Idea
A good first step is to try to put your idea into a one-sentence summary: the legendary elevator pitch. A humble man finds a dangerous, powerful ring. A good, innocent southern girl falls in love with a vampire. An outcast boy who grows up in a dragon-hunting town befriends a dragon. If you don’t have an idea yet, try one of the simple combinations from “Found Objects” in my last post on coming up with ideas.