I'm sure you were expecting me to talk about outlines or The Story next. Quite frankly, that was my plan. But I touched on something last post I thought should be expanded.
As writers we like to talk about the creative process as if it's something that happens to us. The characters "act in ways I didn't expect". The story "goes off on a tangent I never saw coming". (If this hasn't happened to you yet, trust me - it will.) We say these things because that is usually how it feels. But the reality is different.
For better or worse every aspect of our stories/books/novels are all in our heads. The characters, setting, plot, story, all the twists and turns and reveals; they're all in there. There is no outside entity whispering in our ear, no muse gracing us with inspiration.
There's just us talking to ourselves.
Here's the tricky thing. Our brains our complex and teasing something out of our subconscious (where our stories like to sleep) can be difficult. I have offered the one method that works really well for me: asking questions. But for various reasons that method might not work so well for you.
You might get stuck in "I don't know what questions to ask"-ville. Or you might ask a lot of questions and just get silence in return. This is because training your subconscious to let go of the ideas percolating in the depths takes time. And not everyone has the same triggers.
With that in mind let me mention a few other things that may help with the creative process.
This one can be tricky because it's easy to get sucked into finding "inspirational" music and ignoring the actual work of writing. However, music is powerful. Finding a track that reflects a character or a scene or the story in general may be just the thing to get the gears turning. (I tend to find this tends to work best when it happens spontaneously. When I hear something on the radio and think "OMG!!11! That would be the perfect theme song for so-and-so!!1!" When I spend writing time searching for music I'm not nearly as successful at finding something appropriate.)
2) The Interview
This goes back to asking questions of your character. But sometimes the formality of it is enough to shake things up. I will say this method doesn't work too well with strong silent types. Or anti-heroes. They tend to not give answers that are easily interpreted.
There are different ways to go about this. One is to just start writing at what you think is the beginning of your character's story and see what happens. Or you can write about the characters childhood. Or take a character and put them in a situation where they have to do something they wouldn't normally. For instance, tell your villain he has a save a child. Or tell your hero they have to kill a child/family member. These things may have nothing to do with the actual story but writing the scene can give you insight into why and how your characters do what they do. (Does the villain have a soft spot? Or maybe he only saves a child because he thinks it has some future use.)
This is a little different than free-writing because it's less narrative oriented. I started developing a space-opera idea a few years back and I wrote extensive journals trying to figure out what all the moving parts were. I had a main character. I had the inciting incident, but I didn't know what happened after that. So I wrote page after page of journals, talking about Cecily and her background and motivation and where she was and what she might do from there. Some days I kept going from where I'd left off the day before. Some days I started over from the beginning. Eventually a story began to emerge. The difference between journaling and free-writing (for me) is that journaling is mostly me having a conversation with myself about what I have to work with. Free-writing is more like flash fiction - hammering out a little scene/story with only a basic prompt.
Now we come back to my main point: everything you need to know about your story is in your head. You don't have to have the wind blowing from the east or your desk arranged in perfect Feng Shui balance or the precise balance of sugar and caffeine coursing through your bloodstream. It's all there.
I know, all too well, that it doesn't always feel that way. But it is. And once you know that, the rest is simple. (Not easy, just simple.) Get the idea onto paper.
What methods work well for you?