And I answered:
That's a very nice question.
Any writer can only answer a question like that for perself (*g*), and for me--well, it becomes rather a travelogue.
Once upon a time I started a story with a character, and then I gave him or her a problem and saw what happened. As I developed as a writer, though, I came to see that there were different ways to develop a story (word repetition) and now I'm trying to learn how to exploit all of them simultaneously, because they all have
strengths and weaknesses.
To accomplish this, I started dividing a story up into parts. A character/protagonist, a situation ('idea,' 'setting'), a problem (conflict, plot), a theme, a symbol.
Any of these can provide a story seed, but I need all of them working together to get a story.
And a story can start with any of these things.
Generally, many people tend to talk about 'character' stories versus 'idea' stories in spec fic, and I think that's an oversimplification. Because (in mystery) you have 'character' stories vs 'plot' stories, and --
--you see what I mean. Ideally, you have them all. (where 'you' means 'me'.)
So say you start (as I usually do) with a character. Well, that character has to live someplace, right? So he needs a situation--a world, a backstory, issues that will be involved in the resolution of the story. To be a story, he has to have conflict and resolution, or lack of resolution. Okay, that's three things.
And a story, to me, needs layers, which is where theme and symbol come in: what is the story related to? What is it trying to say? What does it mean? This can all be very understated, but to me in important. What is the story
So, that's all the elements. And some of this development work takes place subconsciously--the more I learn, the more subconsciously it takes place. Although whenever I add something new, it all becomes painfully conscious
It's like juggling.
Add a ball, start all over.
Suddenly, I discover I just can't do things I used to do like magic. I trip over my own feet. My sentences suck. My characters are flat. My plots don't. It's because I'm concentrating everything on the new thing.
It's all good.
As buymeaclue would say, "Doesn't matter. Carry on." *g*
I keep saying that writing is too hard to do consciously.
And it's true, it's true, it's true. It has to become reflex. Because it's too much to keep track of at once. But each new thing has to be learned consciously and then become reflex. And you have to learn to juggle all over again.
cpolk and her take on the same question, here:
Light a fire, burn up all you know
You've had so much time just to let things go--
--Peter Mulvey, "Shirt"