Writing Your Book. Step One: The Idea
So you've got an idea in your head. Maybe it's been burning a hole in your mind for years, and that hole hasn't gotten any smaller. Or maybe you considered a piece of art or literature that got you thinking. It could even be that you followed some expert advice and used some other method for brainstorming to the point where you decided to sit down in front of your keyboard and try to shape the idea into something you can share with the world.
This article isn't going to be too lengthy since most people who would make use of our free services generally already have their manuscript in hand. But for those of you still struggling with the mechanics of getting started with your writing career, here are a few methods I've seen discussed -- and more importantly, they're methods I've seen that actually work -- that I'll talk about here. If you've got one to add, talk about it in the comments!
Method One: The Volunteer
This particular method doesn't require much in the way of encouragement; you've got an idea for a story in your head that just won't go away, and after rolling it around for weeks, months, or even years, you decide you need to put it down on (e-)paper. This method provides so much horsepower that you, as the writer, often feel like you're falling behind the idea itself; if you don't hurry up and get it down, you're going to lose it.
Example: You've wondered about the impact of increasingly powerful computers working their way deeper and deeper into our everyday lives, and the near-future story of autonomous, intelligent appliances being sold as luxury items. How would life seem with a toaster that can talk, or a refrigerator which is connected to a full-service, robotic oven that has your breakfast ready before your alarm sounds? What does that do to society -- and more importantly, what would happen if, after the majority of people had adopted such luxuries, they were suddenly and irrevocably denied them?
Method Two: The Adoptee
This method is a little different. Say you're watching a movie, or listening to a song, or even just looking at an illustration of some kind and you're struck by some part of it that just begs for a story to be based on it. Your mind takes off, seemingly of its own volition, and before you know it you're thinking to yourself, "This is actually a pretty great idea!" Before you know it, you've got your characters and basic plot outlined and it's just a matter of a few hundred thousand 'clickity-clack's of your keyboard and you've got yourself a novel.
Example: You look at a famous painting by a long-dead, renowned artist and wonder at the slightly peculiar arrangement of the dozen or so famous figures presented within. At some point you manage to combine various facts and rumors surrounding those figures into a tightly-woven, elaborate conspiracy which the artist managed to unearth before his or her death regarding a terrible, unspeakable truth regarding the central figure which would shake the very foundation of world-wide society should it be revealed.
Method Three: The Free Flow Fro
This one is like brainstorming, and often takes place in the midst of a particularly nasty case of writer's block. So you clear your head, sit down with your favorite beverage, and begin to write. In the old days this would result in dozens (or, more likely, hundreds) of crumpled paper sheets in the general vicinity of your trash can as you would get a few sentences in before declaring your effort to be rubbish. And then, almost like magic, the dam breaks and it starts to flow.
You don't know exactly what you're writing at first, but you don't really care because for the following several hours you're literally experiencing the story alongside your characters. No one is more intrigued than you to see what shape the story takes since you're following Cy Sperling's example after a fashion: you're not only the author of your newest book -- you're also a reader.
Example: You're trying to write your paranormal/apocalyptic/action/adventure/political/erotic/intergalactic/techno-thriller and you've gotten stumped at the part where the talking pig, championing the rights of the countless disenfranchised members of virtual society, finally gets elected president of the Intergalactic Consortium two days before her life-lock runs red and she's forced to report to the slaughterhouse.
You're feeling good about your story to that point, but you just can't quite figure out how to express the monumental nature of the occasion with said porcine's historic acceptance speech. So you pull out a fresh piece of paper, determined to take on the role of the swine's speech-writer and produce a rough draft for her comment. But instead of a speech, you write something completely unexpected: "It was a surprisingly cold day, which probably should have been my first clue but, as usual, I was completely in the dark."
That doesn't sound like me, you think to yourself, and you're tempted to hit the backspace button but for some reason you decide against it. You hesitantly continue to type, and the next words come out almost faster than you can think them: "Don't get me wrong; growing up in Hell wasn't all bad, especially compared to some other places - like Detroit or Montreal, for instance - but nobody was ready for the arrival of our newest tenant, who was accompanied by the first flakes of snow ever to touch down on the slopes of the fiery pits. To say things would never be the same would be an understatement so profound it might go completely unnoticed - so I'll go ahead and put it out there in the hopes of hiding in plain sight, just like my daddy taught me on my first hunting trip."
Now you're thoroughly confused - and strangely intrigued as you furrow your brow in confusion. What in the world is this about? you wonder. Is this the narrative of a demon talking about snow actually falling in Hell, or just an overly imaginative youngster bemoaning the arrival of winter and the general living conditions of his/her city? Unable to contain yourself, you lean forward and let your fingers do whatever it is they want to do, and before long you've got the start of a real, honest-to-goodness story that beats the old pig-elected-to-presidency thing up and down the block.
The Point is that there are many, many ways (far more both in number and variation than what I've outlined here) to come up with an idea for your story. But once you've found or produced the delicate ember, it's important to fuel it as quickly and effectively as possible, which brings us to Step Two: The Process