Whether you outline or not, you need to do some planning when you write a story. It’s a good idea. Plotters have their stories mapped out on paper. Pantsers have their story maps in their heads. But they all need to do the background work before they begin plotting or writing. How detailed you get depends on how you want to do it.
I like to create character sketches. I have a fifteen question character chart that I complete for my characters. I write the answers in complete sentences and end up with a page of character notes for each character. If I’m writing a mystery, I have a crime sheet where I note the details of the crime. I also have suspect sheets where I note each suspect’s motive to commit the crime, their alibi, and other such notes. It keeps everything organized. That helps me to keep things straight. That’s me. You may have a different set of background ideas.
I also like to list the scenes, where they take place. That’s what I call sets, the backdrops of the story. Stories don’t take place in vacuums. Your characters will be moving through a world. Knowing where they are in each scene helps me keep the action straight. I list the scene by name or number. I add in a sentence or two telling me what should happen in the scene. I list who is in the scene. I’m enough of a plotter to do that. I’m a pantser in that sometimes I veer off the path, but I have the plan to guide me back to finish the story. Again, that’s my process. Yours will be different.
The list of scenes help me to hit the beats of a story. I organize them by listing the scenes that should be in act one. The one that should be in act two and those that should be in act three. So I have a page that details what action needs to go in each act – the beat sheet. It’s easier to create the scene list from the beat sheet than the reverse.
I call it a scene list, but it’s an outline. For me, an outline is a list of suggested actions for my story. I don’t always stick to it, but I know where I am, and where I need to be because I have it. How I get there is the writing. If the characters take over, great. If not, I have my map and can plod along until the characters get fed up and take over.
No matter how you write. You need to know a few things about the action in your story. You need to know who your characters are. You need to know where they are. You need to know what they will do in a given situation and why. That’s the key to a good story. The action has to make sense. So spend some time getting to know your characters and their world. Your story will be better for it.