I assemble lists of three things:
It's a fun, creative and kind of random. If you watch the vid I posted last Saturday you can see Brandon Sanderson talking about the Venn diagram that builds an exciting story.
Many authors do this naturally without even thinking about it. Being a massive planner I like using the construct to hone the conflict to a wicked edge.
I build the setting first. It's made up of your standard list:
- Where does it take place?
- When is it happening?
- What is going on there?
- What places can we create?
Characters usually come next:
- Create a diverse cast of people.
- Give them full lives, dreams goals, strengths, weaknesses.
- What secrets do they hold?
- Find photos of people that fit them (I use IMDB)
- Where do they fit in the setting you have created?
Finally the Plot list:
- Where would the Monkey Wrench go?
- Who is the protagonist"
- Who (or what) is the antagonist?
- What are the goals?
- What are the obstacles?
- What is the red herring?
- Then add a bit of entropy.
Mash all this together in your Venn diagram and the story emerges in high fidelity. Well, that the hope anyway. If it was easy everyone would do it.