You are sitting on the porch on a breezy summer evening, cooling down from the heat wave. An idea pops into your head, and you scramble over a heap of lazy limbs and sleepy pets to write it down.
Or, you are sleeping peacefully under a pile of heavy blankets, Christmas lights blinking from the hallway. You wake with a gasp and fumble with the pen on the nightstand, an urgency to make a note before sleep claims you again.
A few days later, you open your notebook and stare at a single sentence that was supposed to be your next book with no further information. It has happened to me, and it has happened to you. The thing is, what do you do next?
The important thing is to think of that sentence as a house’s bare bones and then build scaffolding around it. The author’s personal preferences come into play immediately after. Not everyone’s writing process is the same, nor does each person have the ability to think and plot on demand.
What I like to do, is start with the “when”. Can that sentence be adapted into a historical fiction novel or can it stand in the contemporary world? If it’s the first, I have to decide on a specific time period as well.
Then comes the “what”; the genre. I tend to incorporate fantasy and/or science-fiction elements in every story, but maybe that’s only because that dreaded sentence almost always comes with a magical bang.
Next is the “who”. I don’t prioritise building solid characters as of yet, because experience has showed me that even the most concrete characters change their behaviour during the course of a story. Once, I had to rewrite a protagonist because the end product felt unrealistic. At this stage, I only specify gender, age, and basic traits like speech patterns or ticks, to name a few.
And finally, the story outline, the thing I have used countless notebooks for. But that deserves a novel of its own.