I don’t actually outline.
When I have a story pretty solid in my mind, I do what I call a breakdown. Chapter by chapter, I write out the key plot points and events. It’s usually just a one-page document. More complex chapters will have more detail. I also sometimes do the equivalent of a gantt chart to help see where all the thread lines in a story or various subplots begin and tie up.
Before I get to that point, though, I spend a lot of time thinking about a story. Usually, I’ve developed on our two key scenes in my—complete with action and dialogue—that I build the rest of the story around.
For Time Up, one of those scenes was the morgue scene, where Van meets Cal—both of them. I also had a pretty strong scene with the dragon swooping down behind Van and Riley on the Las Vegas strip before I started writing, too. In This Time Around, it was the scene with Van waking up on the iceberg, the very first in the book. For This Time Around, which I’ve only just begun to plan, I’ve had an ending scene for more than a year that I’m SO excited to use.
For me, though, all of it’s done in my head until I get to the breakdown sheet.
So what should you do? This may sound trite, but whatever works. Some writers really like a full-blown detail-by-detail outline, I prefer a more skeletal approach so I leave some spontaneity in the writing. But whatever gets you from idea to completed story is what you should do. If you hate outlining, don’t outline. If you have trouble keeping a story on track or tend to meander without direction, some more planning might be a good idea.