This is my favorite part of writing. I enjoy discovering what the story is about and why it matters to the main character. The other Muses know better than to run an idea by me if they don’t want a development discussion. I (almost) can’t help myself!
Let’s start with a basic idea: Tammy wants (and deserves) a promotion. (I just made it up and I know it’s silly, but there it is). You may have in mind a scene of Tammy confronting her boss or complaining to her BFF. That’s enough.
Now, where you take this seed will depend on your genre of preference, of course. Whichever direction you take, the following questions still work:
- Why does this matter so much to Tammy?
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- What (or who) are the obstacles to her goal?
- Does her promotion affect anyone else (coworker, family, client, etc)?
- What is her career (corporate, professional, artistic, educational, blue-collar, high tech, etc)?
- Are other employees receiving promotions?
- What is her boss’s attitude?
- How far will Tammy go to attain her goal?
- What is she willing to do?
- Who will try to stop Tammy? Who will encourage, discourage, or undermine her?
- Are there sinister reasons she hasn’t been promoted?
- Is legal action an option?
- What matters most to Tammy? Authority, money, or title?
- Now, think of the most bizarre reasons for denying promotion that you can. hair color, genetics, parent or marital status, planet of origin, living vs unliving?
Hopefully these questions get you a great deal of information on Tammy, her motivations, and the people in her world.
Let’s turn to setting.
How would all the answers above apply to the following settings: Victorian Steampunk, the 19th century, the 23rd century, a deep space freighter, a haunting agency?
What if Tammy is a fantasy creature? The daughter of someone universally loathed or universally famous?
Outer stakes matter, too, so the world you create for the story affects her employer, industry and job. How are her goals affected by the society around her? What are the repercussions for family, friends if she isn’t promoted?
Don’t chose the “safe” answers to these questions! Look for contradictions and options that appear to have no ability to reconcile.
As a panster, I don’t go too far beyond this point. I’ll mess with the order of some events, maybe write a few character sketches, and prewrite about the world. If anything feels predictable, I try to twist it or eliminate it. Look for the unexpected. I know the first third and the last 20 pages usually, and don’t like to know the rest. Makes the process more intriguing for me.
Thereafter, I keep notes as things come to mind. I have a lot of books I want to write, so whether a story makes it or not depends on a lot of factors.