Okay, you're starting a new book. Maybe it's part of a series, or maybe it's completely new. Blank page syndrome. Help!
Well, I can't give you a plot or a set of characters to use, but I can tell you how I approach each new novel.
I like to use a cheapo 64 page exercise book for my initial plotting. I can get away from the computer and scrawl ideas, rip pages out and generally use it like a brain backup. I'm certainly not ready to use a computer at this stage - that would be far too organised and regimented, even with a mind mapping tool. (The idea with a notebook is that I keep moving forward, reusing the good ideas from earlier pages and dropping the bad ones. On a computer, you end up deleting and editing text, which leaves you only the most recent version. Bad author, bad.)
I always start with the characters, and because this is a series book that means Hal and Clunk are pencilled in right away. If you're writing a new book you have to come up with your protagonist, and I reckon that's one of the hardest things to do. You'll want your readers to care what happens to this person, so a sympathetic or likeable protag is often a good start. And if you already have some plot ideas, they'll help to shape the character - think about their job, their attitude, their financial and mental state amongst other things.
Next up is the antagonist. Who are they? What do they want? Why is your antagonist getting in their way? Maybe experiment with the seven deadly sins until you come up with the right combination (all in the name of research, naturally.)
By now I'll have a few plot ideas - nothing detailed, just something big enough to carry a novel once subplots and other issues are mixed in.
Now I look at minor characters - pro and anti. Do I want a confidant who betrays the protagonist (or antagonist), a friendly face hiding their own agenda, a genuinely helpful character, or what? (Or all of them?)
At this stage I'm moving ideas around, based on the plot and the characters. Who does what to whom is taking shape, and I start picturing locations. A barren planet, a space station, a solicitor's office, deep space .. usually these are dictated by the confrontations in the plot, but there's total freedom when it comes to the outdoors.
By the way, during this process I'm consciously avoiding ideas and situations I've used in other books, and anything I remember from movies, TV or books. "Cop on holiday trapped in a building beset by terrorists" made a great novel, but I don't fancy being known forevermore as the guy who ripped off Nothing Lasts Forever.
So, the exercise book is bulging. Next up is putting it all into Freemind.
Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)