Every artist needs tools, and the first tool an author needs is an outline. Even if you're a dedicated pantser (one who writes by the seat of his pants), having a general idea where your story is going will help keep it from running off the rails. Adding a werewolf to the story might seem like fun, but it can be a corner you can't paint yourself out of. Outlines can be strict constructions like everyone was taught in school, using the three-act rules of the way novels were taught to be written. But strict rules rarely fit in with everyone's work methods, especially those of creative people. Here are three of the more popular methods for creating your plot outline without feeling like you're drowning in rules.
The Snowflake Method
If you've got a basic idea for a story and nothing else, the snowflake method is ideal for you. Begin by writing out one sentence that describes your novel. A boy finds out he's a wizard and goes to a special wizarding school. A young girl's house is blown away by a tornado, and she ends up in a magical land. Like that. Next, take that sentence and expand it into a full paragraph. Mention the major highlights that will happen. After that, write a page about each of your main characters: his name, his looks, his main characteristics, why is he in this book and what does he want? Continue with this method, each time adding more details to what you've already written. Research settings, job descriptions, and anything else you can use to add flavor to the story. By the time you've finished, you'll have worked out your entire plot.
The Headlight Method
For authors who hate the idea of plotting out an entire book ahead of time, but who need a bit of structure to help their writing move more swiftly, this can be the ideal method. The idea is comparable to driving down a dark road. You can only react to what you see in your headlights. You know what's going on ahead for a certain number of feet ahead of you, but past that the future is blank. With the headlight method of outlining, you use the same concept. Write a detailed outline of your book, but only for the chapters you plan to write that day. If your goal is to write 2,000 words, outline enough to last you for twice that, in case you get into the mode and want to keep writing. The next day, do a quick outline of another chunk of the story and write from there. You'll still be pantsing your novel, but you'll have a few guideposts along the way.
The Notecard Method
For those who use Pomodoro sprints or dictation writing, swiftness is the order of the day. You need to know exactly where you're going because you don't have a lot of time to make major ideas up as you go along. With the notecard method, you write a paragraph or two about each scene on a notecard. Having the words on a notecard allow you to shuffle the cards around, if need be, Each card should be a mini-synopsis of a scene or paragraph, giving you the ability to expand on the idea and write an entire paragraph from those few lines.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be With You!