I'd never really before thought about the writing process, but between the creative writing assignment my students did and the fact that I'm revising a current manuscript (which means, of course, all I want to do is write another one), I've been thinking a bit about how my mind actually works when I write.
1. Premise: This is just the idea. It can be as simple in my mind as "talking cat," or "witch teacher," or "magic addiction." Right now, it's "ark spaceship." This is usually just an idea of a unique character or setting.
2. Twist: I try to think of what's the worst thing that could happen with the premise. In The Amnesia Door, I had a teacher who was a witch, but she was a prisoner. What could make the unique character or setting be put in a dire situation?
3. Plot: What's the story? How can I carry the premise and twist out the whole way through the book? For The Amnesia Door, I added a character, a student named Belle, who wanted magic. She's the narrator--she is the story: we follow her as she discovers her teacher is a witch, and we see all of that from her perspective. Which leads directly to...
4. Character: Belle is my main character. Her thoughts and wishes drive the story. So, I defined her character to fit the story: she is bored with life and wants magic of her own.
5. Conflict: This is the driving force of the story. Belle wants magic. Her teacher has magic but wants freedom. I threw in another teacher who was an alchemist and could offer Belle the magic she wanted...but at the cost of her magical teacher's freedom.
6. Resolution: This is the end, how the conflict will be resolved. I hardly ever know what the resolution will be before I start writing; it usually comes to me about half-way through the book. I like to make life difficult on my characters, so difficult that I can't figure out how to solve their problems for them...and then when I get to that point, I have to stop writing and figure out the ending.
In the end, this makes the book. I'm notorious for not liking outlines, but I will admit that this is what I do as pre-writing. I don't necessarily even write any of this down, but these five points are essential for me to have at least thought about before I write. Once I've got at least a vague idea of the first five points, I can write a story.
These usually change as the story develops, but I do maintain at least a semblance of the original idea for each of the points above, even resolution (although that one hardly ever stays the same while I write the book).
One thing I often add either early in the story, or as I go is:
7. Meaning: I don't like hit-you-over-the-head kind of themes, but I do usually have an idea of a deeper meaning that I want to add to my story. It can be as simple as "addiction is bad," but more often than not, it's a Bible verse or lesson, such as the power of love, or refusing temptation. It's not preachy, I hope, but it is usually there in my writing.