“Where do I start? The Characters, The Plot, or the Setting?!“
There is no hard-and-fast rule here; typically, one of the three will spark your imagination as you daydream and then the other two follow.
Nothing is tougher when you’re trying to write than knowing where to start. Where do the good ideas come from? How do I make sure someone else didn’t have the same idea? How do I ensure I didn’t copy someone else? Where do I even start with my own story?
I want to talk a bit about idea generation, because frankly, if you’re don’t have ideas about things to write, you’re probably not going to be a good writer. So where do they come from?
Well, typically, our imaginations tend to run wild based on what inspires us, and thankfully, that usually can be honed down to three story elements as well. Usually, the story we’re dreaming about has a genesis in one of three places: you had an idea about a character you thought would be fun to make, a plot you wanted to see a character move through, or a setting you dreamed up that you think would make a fun sandbox to play in.
Obviously, it’s not so cut-and-dry; usually when you’re inspired, all three of these have crossover. But to start honing in on making a story, it’s not a bad idea to pick the place that is inspiring you the most and starting there.
For instance, when I was trying to write my first book, the first thing I was thinking about was writing a super hero fiction my way with a very positive story arc, so the plot came first. As I dove deeper into it, the characters and setting started to form. Then I had to come up with a setting that supported super heroes and super villains in the way that I wanted, and then from there, I created a history for that world and the heroes/villains that inhabited it. It was the, “super hero saves the day!” plot that started the idea genesis for everything else, like who my main heroine was going to be, what villain would be right to fight them, and how the setting enabled people to have super power and super battles.
But for something like a fantasy, it might be the character that comes first:
I might see a picture like this and be completely inspired to create a character, story, and plot around this visual image. I happen to LOVE this image and artwork, (I wish I knew the artist!), and even though I may not immediately have a plot and setting in mind, the image gives me a launching board with the character. I see a Paladin, marching forward; he looks to me like a working-man’s hero. He’s not rich, his armor has seen better days, but he’s determined to try to save one more life if he can. He wears his armor like a second skin, and doesn’t even have a horse or a pack. So from there, generating the story around the character: what would lead a person to arriving at what we see in this picture? Why doesn’t he have a horse or nicer looking armor? Why is he determined to march forward, even though he’s alone?
Sometimes it’s a genre or setting that tickles your fancy first:
I loved the Shadowrun games, and that inspired me to want to try writing a cyberpunk short story. For me, that story started with the setting: a cyberpunk future on a space station near Jupiter. And because of the setting, I decided the story would be about a futuristic heist and the competition between two hackers involved in the theft, who have to learn to work together despite being each other’s biggest rivals.
Ultimately, whatever is inspiring you about this particular piece is where that seed should start growing from, and where you start mapping out everything else.
The key here, no matter where you start, is CURIOUSITY. Get curious about your own idea! What drives this character? Why would this setting have magic/science/or X fantastic element in it? How does the plot put two people in conflict when A believes this, and B believes this?
The more curious you get and the more questions you ask the further you start developing that seed of an idea into something more substantial. For my super hero story, it didn’t take me long to drill down from my initial plot idea to having a heroine with super speed, a world that had super heroes since the 1940’s, a history for that setting, and a good villain. It’s because curiosity drives discovery, and discovery powers imagination!
If you don’t know where to start, but you have even a single idea, GET CURIOUS, ask question, and you’ll start being able to develop that idea. It doesn’t matter what excites you about that initial story idea or where it comes from, (plot, setting, or character), it only matters that it DOES excite you and makes you curious to discover more. The more you discover for yourself, the more story you’ll start to develop!