From Scott:

Inspiration for a novel can strike at any time. The sources come in all shapes and sizes, from movies and books to games and even life experiences. Frequently, they are colored, to some extent, by our own life views. For this blog, I intend to help you shape that inspiration into a viable storyline. Fair warning: if you haven’t read my sci-fi vampire novel, 14 Days ‘Til Dawn, this blog entry contains spoilers.

Remember, however, that there is one thing to be careful of right off the bat. Several months ago, I blogged about not annoying your readers. One of the quickest ways to annoy someone is to write a politically charged story that relies heavily upon a controversial topic. People who don’t hold the same political views as you may be offended and turned off by your viewpoint.

For example, look at the movie Avatar. I want to say up front that I loved the movie, the story, and the special effects. However, the movie obviously used the aliens as a stand-in for Native Americans, and the plot was a shot at both corporate America and westward expansion. These are issues that could easily turn off a large portion of your audience, if not handled properly. But the movie has such powerful characterization and conflict that the potentially explosive issues are held at bay.

As I said, the possible sources of inspiration are almost as endless as the paths the inspiration might take. To help you follow the path, I will give you an example of taking that moment of inspiration, running with it, and molding it into a viable novel.

One of the best ways to develop an idea into your next novel’s world is to start with questions. I was driving home one day when the Tom Petty song “Free Fallin’” came on the radio. It was the start of the second verse that really sent my imagination into overdrive:

And all the vampires
Walking through the valley
Move west down
Ventura Boulevard.

The first question that popped into my head was, “Why are the vampires moving west?” The answer is simple. They need to get away from the sun. At that point, it occurred to me that I might have a novel in the making. I could create an entire society of vampires, all continuously migrating to the west in order to avoid the sun’s killing rays. The next problem was that they wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to stay in the darkness. And even if they could, at some point they would run up against an obstacle, such as an ocean, that would stop them.

Again, I had a question: “How do the vampires move westward quickly enough to stay out of the sun?” I decided that they would need a flying city. And so was born the city of Centrus, an enormous flying city that would house the vast majority of my vampire population.

At this phase in your world generation, you need to think through what you’ve created, from every angle. What are the possible flaws in your plan? What are the contradictions? You don’t want to be in the last chapter when you finally realize there is a fatal flaw in the entire design. Or even worse, publish the book and have readers find the flaw for you.

For example, I wanted to have easy access to and from the city of Centrus. Even though this is a futuristic novel, I had already decided that the world would have a mixture of the high tech and the mundane. I didn’t want the military to have futuristic flying craft, capable of tremendous speeds. But how else could such a craft go back and forth between the surface and the city, which is in geo-synchronous orbit around the planet? Here on Earth, at the equator, the world is spinning at over 1,000 mph. I needed another solution.

I put the entire population on a moon in another solar system. I figured that if this moon rotated at a speed of one spin every month, Centrus could fly much more slowly. This allowed me to use hot air balloons as a means to ferry people and cargo back and forth (the city can speed up or slow down, as necessary, for docking purposes). Had I not thought about this, I might have had a balloon trying to dock with a city zipping by at over Mach 1!

In the next entry, I’ll go deeper into the genesis of a world. I’ll look at the creation of the various characters and governments, as well as that most important facet of any fiction novel: conflict.

–Scott