The spark.

It’s been awhile since I actually sat down and talked about my process as a writer, hasn’t it? Well, how about we take a step back and look at the one process that a lot of non-writers always ask.

“How do you get your ideas?”

It’s such a simple question, isn’t it? Yet, despite its simplicity, it’s a very loaded question that we have to even ask ourselves. So, when I begin working on a new project, what do I start with when I begin to brainstorm an idea?

A single image.

That’s right, I’ve had entire projects and everything spring to mind due to just one single image in my head. Everything grows from the roots that the image plants, ranging from the beginning to the end. Characters, worlds, etc, they all come from that.

Take for example, my current NaNo project. It features an Air Force pilot testing an FTL drive for NASA, but he gets sent to the other side of the galaxy when it goes awry. To get back to Earth, he integrates with an alien fleet that is essentially the last survivors of their species, and becomes a pilot for one of their gunships on the journey home.

Where did the idea for this story come from? What image could I conjure up in my own head that bred this story concept? I had the mental picture of a squad of infantrymen in a scifi setting, while a VTOL gunship flies in, hovers above them, and begins opening fire on the hostiles attacking the infantry squad.

That single image then begins to raise questions in my mind. Who’s fighting on the ground, and why? Who are they fighting against? What kind of man is the person piloting the gunship? Is he alone in there, or does he have a gunner? Is that ship limited to just the air, or is it capable of fighting in space?

Questions like those arise, and as I imagine answers that sound interesting, I start putting them down as possible story elements. The squad on the ground? Aliens, because they’re trying to protect the last pockets of their species that remain. Who are they fighting? Machines that were built for war by a race that is now extinct and can no longer hit the ‘Off’ button.

Questions and answers continue, with the answers constantly breeding more questions. Eventually, I then wind up at a point where there is a web of details, all explaining different aspects of the story and its elements. With that web, I then begin to piece together a story, figure out who the characters are and what they’re like, find the type of feeling I am aiming for, etc.

It is a long process, but there eventually comes a point where I sit back and look at the overall picture. Seeing who the characters are and what their motivations and weaknesses are, finding the subtle messages one might be able to interpret, and so on. At that moment, I either realize that it still needs more work and refinement, or that I am on to something and need to start penning it.

The thing is, the forming and creation of ideas doesn’t end there. I could be in the middle of penning the story and an idea will strike of a plot point or a new character will strike. Hell, I just had an epiphany about one of my character’s fate in my NaNo project today, and I’m already well into writing it.

Even all the way into editing, one can have a brand new idea that spices up the story, or even cleans it up. For Blood in the Machine, I wound up actually cutting an antagonist because he wasn’t fleshed out nearly as well as he should have been, and there wasn’t a way to make it happen.

So you see, the idea of creating a story doesn’t come all at once. There are few moments where something of depth and meaning will strike in one swoop. Instead, the process of creating a story exists all the way into editing your first draft and even later.

Anyways, just thought I’d let out some “behind the scenes” info, and maybe add a spotlight as to how I work on a story. I hope you find this insightful or intriguing, and might have learned something here. If you’ve got your own process that differs from my own, feel free to share and let us know. Until then, have a good one.

~ James.

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