Nothing is more daunting to a writer than a blank page. But before you start writing, you need to know what you want to write about. So I was thinking about how I conceptualize my stories.
Most of the time I work in this order: character, setting, plot, theme. I should mention, however, that these are not entirely discrete units. The act of creation is actually very messy.
I start with character because it provides the most points of interest to me. Character, as I think of it, implies a lot of the other points. If I contemplate a dragonslayer who wants to retire and become a ballerina, for example, what does that tell me about setting, plot, and theme?
Well, to start with, we have a setting that has both dragons and ballet. Dragon stories are often set in medieval times, but ballet began sometime in the Renaissance, giving me some interesting dissonance to work with.
For plot, I immediately begin looking for conflicts to my characters stated goal. What are the impediments to retiring from a dangerous and necessary job? What are the challenges in convincing people to accept someone as a dancer?
I usually discover thematic elements as I work. It feels a little like uncovering what was already there. In this case, I suspect I’d be exploring questions of identity and the freedom to choose what to do with one’s life. Possibly contrast the values of violence and art and parallel the discipline required to do either well.
Your mileage may vary. Perhaps contemplating what the world of dance might be like in a setting with dragons would be your starting inspiration. Or perhaps you have a theme you want to explore.
Writing, like most arts, is judged on the finished product, rather than the process. So whatever works to start your story. Just be sure you do actually start.