Friday, October 20, 2006

How do I come up with a story?

I'm often asked about my creative process. A rough idea comes first. Sometimes just a few paragraphs or sometimes a scene, usually longhand, but occasionally on the computer. Then it goes into a binder. I need names for the characters before I can move forward, and I need a working title.

I have character grid sheets I used at this point and I start answering questions like
“What is the inciting incident that gets this story going?”
“What is this character’s motivation or backstory?”
and I figure out their goals and their strengths and weaknesses and the conflict between them. I usually have one person pretty well developed in my head before I start on the other, and I build in conflict by making them completely different personalities with pasts as vastly different as I can imagine. Once I have all my questions answered I write a synopsis.

I also make a list at this point: 25 Things That Could Happen. I brainstorm the list with all kinds of wild and unlikely things and don’t let myself quit until the page is filled. I usually use several of these ideas from the list--except the ones that include aliens. LOL

Somewhere in the process I find pictures of the characters and pair them.

Sometimes I write the first pages or a prologue to get started, but usually it’s the synopsis. The synopsis helps me flesh out the story and figure out if I have enough conflict and if these story people interest me enough to move forward. Most writers detest writing a synopsis. I love it because it's part of the fun creative process for me.

After this, I’m a pretty linear writer. I start at the beginning and write straight through to the end with very little revising, except for daily and weekly edits and a read-through every several chapters. In the middle of the book I get out my synopsis and the list of 25 things and remind myself where I’m going. The middle is always a tough spot, but with a little determination I push past it. Once the story is over half way the rest is usually actually fun. That light at the end of the tunnel thing, maybe.

And the end is cause for celebration!


  1. You really need to get out of my head. I've had a story brewing in my brain for a couple of weeks now. I keep thinking, "How does Cheryl get started?"

    Are you a mind reader now to??? j/k but thanks for the information!

  2. Nicole, I'll be glad to send you the grids I created for myself.

  3. That would be great, thanks!