First, the usual disclaimer: everyone has their own process! Or if they don’t have a process, the fact that they don’t have a process is their process, know what I mean?
That said, here’s what works best for me. At least, it usually works best. 🙂
Step 1: Get a notebook and a pen. Turn to the first page of the notebook and give yourself a grandiose title. Sprinkle in a dash of self-mockery.
Step 2: WRITE. This is stream-of-consciousness. A lot of the time it starts off with me saying things like, “I have no idea what this story should be about, but I know I want it to be related to such-and-such.” In the case of Tales of Dunes and Dragons, I knew I wanted to write a spin-off of Tales of Sand and Stars. Because I’d just come off of writing the prequel story, “Tales of Wind and Wolves,” Inez was already in my head as a main character. And Orion, well. He was new, and I was eager to learn more about him.
Step 3: Keep going. I blather on and on about characters, their backstory wounds, and their goals. I talk about cool settings I’d like to incorporate. Ideas for scenes might pop into my head, or bits of dialogue, and I scrawl that down as fast as I can.
The first rule of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming is YOU DO NOT CENSOR YOURSELF.
Step 4: This eventually leads to an outline for me, but sadly, the brainstorming doesn’t end there. Because even with an outline, I get a little lost. Sometimes I realize the outline doesn’t work. Other times, the story veers off-course and I have to re-outline my outline (like in the image above–that’s me saying, wait, hold up, things are going wonky, let’s try again).
Step 5: Use the notebook for outlining, working on character, creating maps of the world, and jotting ideas for future books. Use it to troubleshoot revision problems. Use it until the last page is filled up, and then pick up another notebook and keep going. 🙂