Where do you start? How do you go about it? While every creator has his or her own system, I've outlined a method below, one that I've contemplated on using but never got around to trying it out.
Phase 1: Opening Up To Story Ideas
January is about beginnings, so spend 31 days being an active sponge. The objective of this month is to write down every idea that comes your way. You have to be actively looking for story ideas--reading newspapers and magazines, watching the news, surfing the net, even listening to friends--and jotting them down in an idea notebook. The ideas don't have to gel at first, and they don't have to be stories in themselves. They can be quotes, a flash of insight, a cool concept, a reflection, a memory, or an image. What's important is that these ideas have to impact you at some level, no matter how small. When you write an idea, you need to explain on paper why the idea affected you in the first place--on a personal level, why is the idea significant?
Phase 2: Generating Character and World
Again, some of the ideas that you write down will weigh in heavier than others. You might notice that there are ideas that interconnect, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. In a sense, you're creating the foundation for a character, one who either represents, upholds or contradicts, or champions the interconnecting ideas that matter most to you. Or, you can use your related ideas to create a host of characters, each one representing an aspect of your core ideas. Spend February threshing out these characters and the world where they exist.
Phase 3: The Story Idea
While you're creating your characters, one will definitely stand out--your main character. This is the character who has the responsibility of bringing readers into a story and keeping them there. Among all your characters, the main character has the strongest and most urgent need, and it is this need that will serve as the main story idea.
When your main character has a need, there has to be someone (or something) that directly opposes it. The "villain" or "antagonist" will do whatever it takes to make sure the main character fails. Along the way, the main character will have other characters supporting as well as opposing his cause, and you will have to develop them, too.
In a nutshell, you're creating what film people call a "logline." In one sentence, describe your story idea: In a
If I were to bring this closer to home, I would write: "In a small generic provincial town, a homosexual hairdresser wants to have a normal (but nonetheless fruitful) life, but a cosmic event compels him to fight otherworldly threats led by alien invaders."
Another part of your story idea is theme. This is your thesis, your opinion, or your umbrella idea that governs the direction of your story. If you're creating a love story, your theme could be, "Love makes people do terrible deeds," or "love for spouse trumps love for country." For the Zaturnnah story, it was, "Sometimes it's better not to ask why." You can create several stories around one theme, or you can create mini-themes for one large story.
Where do you get your theme? That's what Phase 1 is also for. As you compile ideas for stories, you're also forming opinions about those ideas. But you also have the option of not having a conscious theme at all.
In the next blog post, we'll focus on breaking things down.