You've got a great idea for a story. But how do you get it organized so you can start writing?
Arguably the best tool for the job is a Plot Outline.
"Great!" You say. "Now how do I make one??"
First things first. Prepare the details. What is the Premise of your Story? In other words, Who is your Protagonist (the main character/hero/heroine)? What is the setting? What is the conflict within the story and what are the highlights of the storyline?
If you have these things figured out, next you want to take the time to flesh out your characters: What are their needs? Motivations? Manner of Dress? What is the backstory for each character? How do they respond to the main characters' personalities throughout the conflict? What are the characters' emotional responses to their environment?
Ready to write that outline? Not quite. Before you can do that, you need to build your fictional world. What are the sights, sounds, smells, temperatures, lighting, and times of the day? What era is it? What style? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Alternate Historical? Modern Day? Worldbuilding can make all the difference between a good story and a GREAT story. Worldbuilding is part of the reason Tolkiens' stories about the Hobbits and the Lord of the Rings were so successful that they are considered classics.
Once you have these things sorted, it's time to use those building blocks to create your plot outline.
Step 1. First, you want to make a comprehensive description of your major fictional elements. So you are going to take all those ideas you have for your fictional world and quite literally start building it. Here is where you describe and explain your setting, your characters, their style, etc. Your goal is to bring the setting for your conflict into crystal clear focus.
Step 2. Build your plot Conflict. This is where all of the challenges, conflicts, and complications need to feature the most strongly. This is also where you want to start to add in pieces of the backstory, clues to various characters' motives, and tidbits of information that gradually lead your reader to understand more about the world you've created, the themes you've selected and perhaps hints to how the story may or may not climax. Make sure that each plot point connects to both the story's climax and the aftereffects of that climax.
Step 3. Bring your Conflict to its Apex. Here your storys climax becomes clear. Its the major turning point in your story. The central conflict is irreversibly changed and the fate of the characters is revealed. It is also the point where the themes and ideas change.
Step 4. Descending action stage. At this point in your narrative, you explore all of the fallout from the Apex of the Conflict. Are there further or new conflicts? How do your characters respond to the irrevocable change brought about in the conflict? This is where you start to tie up loose ends and guide your story to a resolution point, all while focusing on the conflict's apex and its fallout. A good way to visualize this, for example is this: Pre-conflict Peak was "Normal" but Post Conflict Peak is the "New Normal."
Step 5. Resolution/Conclusion. This is where you gather the strands of your story and weave them all together. Matters are explained or resolved. Ideally, the delivery of your theme gives your readers something to mull over after they have finished reading your creation.
While outlines are typically created to help plan a novel, you may find it useful to update the outline once you start writing. This way, changes can be incorporated into the story, characters, or settings while doing your drafting. Doing so will make your outline invaluable when you reach the stage of editing, allowing you to look for plot holes or places where the world or the characters need a bit more fleshing out.
Having a good plot outline in hand leaves you well prepared to sit down and bring your literary creation to the page, and then, to the world.well-prepared