So, you have an idea for the next greatest best seller in your mind. How do you take this idea from the deep crevasses in your mind and make imagined thoughts become words on a page?

There are many ways to prepare and organize your thoughts before you begin to write anything, and this usually ends up better than anything you write with no planning at all. Of course, writing comes in steps—an idea, a first draft, editing, multiple more drafts, more editing, and sharing your work. One of the most important parts is the crucial point between the idea and writing the first draft.

Like most things in writing, there is no right or wrong way to plan out your story before you write it. The first step is to just worry about the shell of the story before the details. You don’t decorate a house before you build the walls. Similarly, you cannot write all the detailed parts of the story before you know the main parts of the plot and characters.

An extremely simple way to begin the planning stage is to make sure you know what your novel is truly about. You’ve heard of an elevator pitch. Thirty seconds to pitch a novel’s idea that will make or break its future. Make sure you have a sound example of one of these before you start. Things may change as you write, but it’s good to have a clear example to work toward.

One way of planning is to create an outline—just like you’d create taking notes in school. Set the major pieces of the novel, the introduction, the rising action, climax, etc, inside the largest divisions. Then following down the list, continue with indented lines the scenes inside these major pieces and indent further every time more specifics are needed.

If a story you’re writing is very character oriented or dialogue-driven, a script may be the way to go. Write out the setting and other basic information at the beginning of each scene and set it up just like a script of a movie or a play. If the words spoken between the characters are the most important part of the novel, it can come across more genuine written as if in real time. Then add in all the details later.

Another great way (my favorite way, actually) of planning is to create notecards with each scene on them. If you’ve thought of a great idea for a scene but aren’t sure where to put it, you can lay out all the cards that have been created and see where you need to fill in the blank. Then label each card in numbered order and take a peek at them every time you change scenes while writing. You can even write these scenes that you have first even without the transitions or filled blanks. That’s what the second draft is for, right?

Once you’ve got that idea, the possibilities are endless. Planning will make sure you don’t create huge gaps in your story and will also help you find your place if you take a break from a piece you’re working on. Just make sure you work as hard on the prep work as you will on the writing, although it may always change. You can’t face the future without a little planning, so make sure when you begin your journey of writing, you have planned well in advance.