I've researched the topic and found many different methods of outlining. I've tried most of them, but none have worked entirely for me, so I've taken bits and pieces of them and created my own method, based on what I felt comfortable doing. You should do the same. Find what works for you, even if you thwart it from its original form, and use it.
I once read the blog of a person who said that you can't truly write anything good without outlining. I disagreed wholeheartedly. Now I know there was some truth to that. It does depend on how you outline though. That person's method didn't work for me. Mine might not work for you. That's okay, just remember that it's best if you do outline, in some form.
As to how I actually create an outline; I start with the idea.
Say I have a vision all of a sudden of a girl finding a object on a beach which turns out to be magical. There's your very basic idea.
Now, I could start writing this novel here, but I wouldn't even know where to go with it. In all likeliness, I would write myself into a corner. Backtracking is not fun, especially when you have to go back several thousand words to get back onto track.
After you get an idea that has struck you and you must write it, you should find the beginning point. Where do you want to start your story off at? Is it at the beach where the girl will find the object? Is it before, telling the reason she went to the beach in the first place? Is it much earlier, telling the history of the magical object rather than the girl? Or is it later, and the girl will perhaps have a flashback of finding the magical object?
Let's say you decide to choose that the beginning of your novel will be before her finding the magical object, and her finding the magical object will be a point in the plot later.
Now comes the part that I call free outlining. It is almost like writing without an outline, but you ignore the details. Don't use names, or work out specifics, or try to really describe anything. Simply write the very basic events that will take place. Don't even worry about solving problems, just set those problems up.
Here's your list of events:
- MC is at school. She gets into trouble and gets detention, and thus is delayed getting home.
- MC returns home after detention to find that there has been an accident and by being in detention, she survived it.
- MC is forced to leave her home, somehow, and ends up in a new city, near the coast.
- MC explores her new home and finds a secluded beach.
- Something happens again to the MC and she starts wandering the beach in discouragement one day.
- MC stumbles upon a box sticking out of the sand and digs it up. Inside is the magical object.
And so on, and so forth. If you know you want something to happen, but you don't know where in the plot it goes, write it down in the list anyway and you can figure out the details later. Figuring out those details will come in Part Two of this article.