For this week's writers roundtable, let's talk about step-by-step story creation when writing for a themed anthology.
For example, if I were your editor, and I asked you for a story about "insert topic or character here," what would be your process for coming up with a story? Would you begin with the character of the protagonist? Would you begin with a plot? Would you instead immerse yourself in research? What works for you, and why?
Gordon Dymowski: It depends on my familiarity with the topic/character - if it's one that I'm not as familiar with, I always try to immerse myself in research. (If it's a character, I try to read that character "in their natural habitat" - get a sense of *how* a story with that character works). As I'm researching, ideas usually begin floating, and once I begin getting them down on paper (real or virtual), a storyline begins to emerge....and then the *real* fun begins.
Marian Allen: Well, in all honesty, the first thing I would do is see if I already something written that would fit -- or could be made to fit -- the topic. If not, I would cast about and try the topic on my existing characters/worlds to see if any of them would like to do the work. If not (and also meanwhile), I would do what I do for one of those writing exercises where you take a word or phrase and use it to spark a story.
"If this, then that." If the topic is coffee, then what? Anything from the many places coffee is grown and all the landscape and politics and personal stories of the plantation workers, to all the many places coffee is and has been and will be consumed.
How much time do I have for research? Do I already have a couple of good books on the subject? Is the anthology literary, fantasy, mystery, of science fiction? What's the word count? The answers to all these questions will outline my possibilities and contain my musings.
Then comes the time of wandering around staring into space while I, consciously and subconsciously, poke bits around in the soup I call my brain to see what will stick to what else. Eventually, I'll get a notion of a character, a relationship, a conflict, a compelling setting, a story line, a tone, or SOME damn story element that will be the first solid beginning. That particular element might or might not survive the writing process, but, if it gets cut, it'll go in the bits box for possible future use.
Ray Dean: If it's Alt History, I usually like to start with history/technology research. Looking for some odd facts or historical notes. Sometimes it's just something mundane that sparks a 'what if' idea. If the 'theme' is character centered, like a superhero, werewolf, etc. I start with the central character and build from there. If it is a genre, I look at the elements of the genre. What makes it tick? What elements are the heartbeat of the genre? Once you have the set or the tone of the piece it's time to start asking the 'what if' questions and see who is kicking around in that world. But you really never know what is going to spark an idea. And sometimes you start in with an idea and it fizzles before you've even finished a first draft. Sometimes you change direction with the idea, go back and take a different path in the plot. Starting over with another idea is necessary at times, but that's when it helps to be more of a plotter than a pantser. Outlining ahead of time to make sure you have a solid plan. With themed anthologies it can be a different process each time, a combination of ideas or brainstorming processes. It helps to be open to consider odd ideas or look to unusual sources of inspiration.
Andrew Salmon: For me, I get to know the characters/world I'm working in. Research is the key. Then I grow the plot from the characters.