No the title doesn't mean this post is X rated. I'm here to discuss outlining. Before you cover your eyes and run screaming because of the "outline" word, let me assure you, IT'S WORSE THAN YOU THINK!
That being said, here is why:
First, we've all heard of the Save the Cat beat sheet, and there are many others out there. Not a screenwriter? This doesn't excuse you. The beat sheets are for all writers of fiction, and they do help save valuable rewriting time. Fleshing out the outline does NOT kill your creativity! It gives you a roadmap and helps you find huge holes in your plot so you don't have to go back and rewrite inumerable pages. I'll just include what I feel are the 7 absolute must haves, and you can take or leave what you want from them.
1. Ordinary, everyday life - the story starts with your main char (MC) doing normal everyday stuff.
2. Inciting Incident - what rocks the MC out of said ordinary life.
3. End of Act 1 - MC decides on course of action for incident in #2
4. Midpoint - Action takes a sudden & unexpected direction
5. Lowest of low points or End of Act 2 - No way in hell the MC is going to get out of this one.
6. Act 3 or the Ultimate Challenge - Something, anything that will reanimate the MC to continue.
7. Return to "ordinary" life - Only now the MC has changed forever.
Sounds easy, right? So here's the rub, ready?
If you want a really compelling story, you have to remember you don't just have one MC, there are many characters in your story. AND YOU SHOULD OUTLINE FOR EACH MC (secondary characters, not so much, or at all). You may not use all of the information, but you should have a progression for each of the main characters in your story. So the above outline isn't just a one time deal for each story, it can actually be 3 or more. Yikes. Hate me now? Or were you already doing this?