This August (Yes, as in the August that's a few weeks away) is Camp NaNoWriMo, a sister event to the legendary NaNoWriMo that takes place every November. Even if you've already been convinced to write a novel, you may be worried that you can't pull off a 50,000 word novel in 31 days, but I'm here to tell you that you can.
On your next day off, get out of your house. Get away form your computer, turn off your cell phone, and go some place no one can find you and do this. You will have an entire outline written in less than a day.
Step 1: Write down your 'stupid' idea.
Maybe you've just woken up form a dream. Maybe someone offhandedly said something odd to you. Maybe you can't sleep. Maybe you read a story but they just did it all wrong, and you think you can write it better. Whatever the case may be, you have an idea. It's a vague, poorly thought-out idea that isn't going anywhere. Maybe it's just "I just wanna write about zombies", but you don't know what else.
You know that old composition notebook you have lying around somewhere? The one you swore you would use to learn a new language, and when that didn't work out, you swore you'd use it to write poetry, and now it's just a notebook with 50 pages in it, because you ripped the other 50 out, but just didn't have the heart to throw away because you "might need it someday"? Well, today is that day. Find it. Open it. Write in it. Write the one sentence you heard that inspired you. Write the word "Zombies". Write down that crazy dream you had.
As soon as it's something tangible you can look at, I promise you will have ideas pouring forth. Your main characters will start with odd things "What if my main character has mutton chops. Like really, really absurd mutton chops." "What if a chinchilla is involved somehow?" "I've always liked dragons...there should definitely be dragons".
Soon, things will start developing. It will still be abstract. It's okay. This is brainstorming. I promise you're doing it right. You just have to write one thing down.
2. Write down character details.
So you have some basic ideas. You want your main character to be a bad ass zombie killer with some serious chops, a leather jacket, a pet man-eating chinchilla and a hot girlfriend who polishes shotguns for a living. That's great. That's...awesome, actually. But they need a little depth.
For me, this is where "write what you know" comes into play.
Use yourself. Use your friends. Maybe you have this one really cool friend who can strike matches on his cheek and be completely unfazed. Or a weird cousin who is kind of an alcoholic, and you have seen how he deals with situations he can't control. And maybe you've had a really strange childhood, and while you dealt with a lot of anger issues as a teenager, you came out of it a better, stronger person. Use this. Use all of this. Everything. From the odd quirks, to the distinctive things people do when they talk that make them...them. Take these things from real life, and your characters will also be real. If you don't have an actual person to base your characters off of, then how will they be real?
Also note, that the person you're basing them off of doesn't necessarily need to match in gender and age. You can write about a 20-year-old girl, but use a 28-year-old semi-effeminate male that you know. If it will work for you, then it will work.
I also like using this to help develop characters. Note, though, that not all characters have to be extremely well-rounded. By making some characters simple, flat and shallow, it will give you some dimension to the dynamic of your characters and how they interact with each other.
3. Write your outline.
I don't know what works for you, but you'll figure it out. Some people have index cards (me!), some people write out lists, some people make charts.
What I like to do is write a basic outline from start to finish (e.g. "Man wakes up one day to find that his chinchilla has a taste for human flesh. The zombie apocalypse has begun and now he must find a way to cure his chinchilla, and eventually the human race. Man meets hot scientist woman while she is polishing her shotgun on her porch. Hot scientist woman thinks the chinchilla may be the cure to the zombie apocalypse. After a lot of researching/adventures, it turns out the chinchilla is an imposter chinchilla alien who has been sent down to destroy Earth. Lots of fighting. Man and Hot Scientist kill off the chinchilla aliens by waking up ancient dragons and everything goes back to normal. Man and Hot Scientist kiss in the sunset.")
So now you know where you're going. The tricky thing about writing is that writers make it seem easy. It's so easy to read, but it's so much more difficult to write. All those clever subtleties and connections don't just -happen- thought, effort and time go into them.
Now your list/index cards/chart can fill in the details. What are their adventures? Who else do they meet? Who gets in their way? How do they summon these dragons? Subplot the hell outta this bitch. You can never have too much. If you feel like it's too much, write more. Add more. It will probably still not be enough. You can always take away minor events, but adding them is much harder when you're in the thick of NaNoWriMo Events. When you're writing a novel in a month, your brain will ultimately get fried, so it's better to come up with ideas and subplots now, while you're still able to process things.
So now you have an outline, for a book...your book. The hard part now is to find a way to pass the time until August 1st!