Here’s what that looks like.
1) I start at BabyNames.com, looking for the names of my next set of characters. I love names, so this is perhaps not a shocker. I have a penchant for short names that are uncommon without being ridiculous. It’s hard to explain how I know when I’ve found the right name– I just DO. Sometimes it feels more like archaeology than creation, as if I am simply unearthing what was waiting to be found as opposed to inventing what was waiting to be fashioned.
2) Armed with my characters’ names, I go looking for their pictures. Thank you, Pinterest. I’ll peruse board after board of faces till I find the ones that match my names. This part of the process feels like sculpture. I’ll find a picture and realize, “Oh, she’s got red hair!” then another and “Oh, and gray eyes!” All the while I am chiseling an image out of a block of marble until I find the “aha!” photo and say, “There. That’s her.”
3) I like to have very, VERY large-scale idea of the plot– even if it’s just one sentence: girl in foster care falls in love. Or wards of the state experience hospice care. Or girl runs away with the carnival. I’m completely okay with leaving this idea zoomed out to 10,000 feet at this point.
4) Meanwhile, my characters need to have something they care about. Preferably it will be something I care about– at least enough to research and write about and live with for the next couple years. This search often involves Wikipedia and Quora, the public library and the university one.
5) Now I need a hook. What’s one fascinating idea these characters can explore? Again, lots and lots of research, including books of anecdotes, philosophy, mythology, symbolism, trivia. I read and read and read until something fits and I think, “Those are deep waters, and I’m ready to go from the shallow end into the depths.” At this point, I usually request one trillion library books and read everything I can find about this idea online.
6) I need to get to know my characters better, so I fill out two specific questionnaires about them. The first set of questions comes from Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The second set is from this Yingle Yangle post. By the time I’ve finished filling these out, I usually have a whole boatload of ideas for scenes.
Then, after all this …
7) I finally start to write.
How about you? What are your earliest steps of writing stories?