Everyone rights in a different way. Everyone starts a story in a different way. Most stories (I think) come from an idea of some sort, contained in one of the three aspects of the literary holy trinity of character, plot, and setting. Some writers start with a character, and imagine the events in their life (plot) and the society (world) that produced them, and develop their story around that. Others start with a plot (I wanna write a story about a group of cyberpunk mafiosos fighting the cheese-loving lunar people!), and from that develop a world (cyberpunk future in which mutant mice have gained sentience and telepathy and taken over the moon and human cheese supplies) and characters (the head mafioso and the head mouse).
Then there are writer’s like me, who tend to start with a world and then build characters and plot from it. My large “Juxian Mythos” universe (which I write in far less than I should, alas) was created from this process. I started with a pantheon of gods (the Elders and Ancients), and from that developed a mythology involving the end of the universe, and then imagined the peoples that populated it. Before I had even thought of point of view characters or a plot, I had thought out the history of this world (billions of years of it, from the start of the universe) and the major historical figures, events, wars, and imperial expansions.
Once I had a firm grasp on the universe and world(s) I would be operating in, I was able to pick historically interesting times to set a story in. The discovery of earth and its integration in universal society? The Jakken Trilogy. The foundation of the space druids? The (very) work in progress Tal’kan Saga. The infamous S’kari-Aleuvite War? A Deadly Dance. By having the whole of history to play with, I was able to identify moments that would be able to house interesting plot for stories (and would allow me to flesh out this world with multiple stories).
Once the macro-plot for a story was chosen, then it was time to select characters. When creating characters, you are selecting a point of view, a perspective from which you and the reader will see the world and experience the plot. Sometimes these characters are historically significant figures (such as Jakken), but side characters can also provide a unique perspective on the world and its action, especially when a non-elite commoner is telling us what is going on (something I employ, somewhat, in Sundering Stars). However, in this process, it is usually important to have at least one character be historically significant; you want the character to accomplish something worthwhile, don’t you (especially in my space opera-style science fiction)?
After you have your character, you then have the ability to create smaller plots around them. By selecting the relevant event, you have the larger plot, but not your focal characters’ roles in it. You develop those through sub-plots and micro-plots, where your character is the driving force, rather than the history of the world. Thus, my own process of story generation creates two levels of plots: history-driven macro-plots that produce big ideas, and character-driven micro-plots that add depth to the world (this dual nature of plots I will discuss in a future post)!
That, in a nutshell, is how I generate stories; from worldbuilding to characters. It is similar to how I run roleplaying games; I create a sandbox for characters to play in and shape, except instead of players playing characters, I control them all. While this method is especially useful for world in which you intend to set multiple stories, you can also use this method for one off stories, especially if you are exploring sociological ideas. Though initially character driven, Sundering Stars developed along a similar process (the above description being more of an ideal type process). I knew I wanted to include one particular character, but then I created a massive history in the world she lived in, and created other characters based on the world, not on her.
So, the story-generation process is messy, and I’d be interested to hear how other people come up with the ideas for their own stories. But for now, happy writing (and reading)!