Knowing where to begin with an outline can be daunting. A story idea may form in the middle of the story, with a character idea, a what if, or various other types of ideas. To build around that beginning idea, here are some guidelines:
Develop a clear beginning, middle, and end. This may only be general plot points, but it is important to have a concise path between these points.
Storylines should not be lopsided (front- or end-loaded), and should have a balanced arc. Consider using the three-act structure to create the roller coaster-like pattern of rising and falling action. Make sure all the action or revelations are not crammed together in one section of the story.
Identify the main plotline and subplots, and make sure all have a full arc. Every arc, whether story or character, should have a purpose. Determine what that purpose is and the steps required to fulfill that purpose.
Dangling subplots leave questions and frustrate readers, so make sure that every subplot is not only relevant to the story, but complete and satisfying. Those that cannot be completed satisfactorily should be removed.
Develop strong character arcs that have beginnings, middles, and ends. A character should change throughout a story, and those changes should make sense and provide the reader with a sense of satisfaction by the end.
Underdeveloped characters leave readers unfulfilled. Ask whether or not a character has reached his or her full potential dictated by the events of the story. Everything that happens to a character should have an effect. Consider effects individually and in total.
Develop a strong ending that makes sense and wraps up the storyline. Readers who feel unsatisfied when a book ends are unlikely to read that author again. A strong ending fulfills all plots and subplots and provide interesting development for the characters.
Flat, confusing, or illogical endings deflate the entire story. Endings that are wrapped up too quickly are likely lacking something. Make sure the ending links back to the beginning and the characters’ goals and desires, and that in some way those goals and desires are met, have changed in a way that makes sense, or have reached a satisfying conclusion.
Make sure you have enough story to fill an entire book. Don’t force content into a story just for the sake of length. Cut what isn’t relevant to the story. The story should not be stretched to fulfill a word count. Either write a shorter story or develop more pertinent subplots and character conflict.