Authors often think of their novels as their babies, partially because of the labor they put into them and partially because of the life they give to those books. Most of us begin our books with a blank page. It’s amazing when you really think about it: from a blank nothingness to a whole world of people, back-stories, settings, actions, reactions, themes, conflicts, consequences. Where do these things come from? Our imaginations? Our own lives? A mixture of everything we’ve ever read, watched, heard, thought, and felt, all jumbled up together?

Each writer is different. Each has his or her own source of story ideas. An idea might come from a dream, or from a story on the news, or from a photograph on the internet, or from a writer’s grandfather’s past, or from something he sees while traveling to India. Each writer has a process of how they begin a novel, too. Some are plot-first writers who are more interested in the plot than with individual characters. They may write action or thriller or espionage stories. Some are character-first writers who are fascinated with people and what makes them tick. They may write coming-of-age stories or character-study stories. Some are outliners who will outline in great detail before they write the first line in their book. Some are seat-of-the pants writers who write freely to see where it leads them; often, they don’t want to know beforehand what will happen, because if they do, they will lose interest and quit writing the story.

I’m not sure where I fit in. I usually begin with a series of ‘what if’ questions, and then build on those. Once I know the seed of my idea and where I want to go with the story, I create the main characters—their names, physical attributes, characteristics, background, etc. Next, I build the primary setting—sometimes a real place and sometimes a fictional place. I often will do research about places, and may use components of many towns to create my own. Finally, I work on the plot and create at the very least a sketchy outline from which I can start writing the book. As I write, I will create more characters and do more research, as needed.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a novel is an object of art created from nothing—as are paintings, movies, plays, music, etc.—and that even the way an author goes about developing that novel is part of their creativity. We don’t have a formula, a set way of going about any of it. That’s one of the reasons why I like to hear from other authors about their methods. How do you create your novel?