I love that all things are possible as a new book or series idea comes together. In the beginning, with those first sparks of inspiration flashing in my head, I get excited, eagerly wanting to get to know my characters, to discover who they are and what they want to do and be. It's a wonderful time.
One thing I have to know up front is the name of my main characters. They have to be just the right names before I can even write a single word. Finding the right names is different from book to book and character to character. Sometimes before I've thought more than a second, I know who they are. Sometimes I have to go searching in character and baby naming books or in bibliographies of books from a certain country/certain time period.
For each book, I keep a spreadsheet of all of my characters' names that I can sort by first and by last names. I also have a combined spreadsheet that contains all of my characters' names from all of my CBA books (did this for my ABA books, too, but that file got lost when I no longer had a computer with a zip drive). I'd let my CBA combined spreadsheet get behind, so on Saturday, I got it all caught up. This spreadsheet I can sort not only by first and last names but by book title. When it is up to date, it helps me avoid giving secondary characters the same names accidentally. Not that I don't have Sarahs or Johns in more than one book, but at least they aren't always paired up with the same last names.
Another tool that I use in the beginning of a project is mind-mapping software. There are lots of software programs to choose from. I use Inspiration. The rapid fire feature is probably my favorite when I'm in the beginning stage of an idea. Now, to be honest, I would much prefer to get together with my brainstorming buddies at the drop of a hat, but since we live all over the map, that just isn't possible. So I have to make do with what I have.
I'm in the early stages right now of a new book. I've ordered a number of research books and have pulled out other helpful titles from my existing library. I've done some brainstorming in Inspiration. I've begun collecting other data from the Internet, like photos of my characters. These go into my Scrivener program along with physical descriptions and other pertinent character info. Scrivener is also where I keep information I pull off the Internet. (I used to have huge notebooks and reams and reams of paper that contained all of this information. Having a great software program like Scrivener has helped me save a few trees.)
This week, as ideas continue to fire and the story begins to take a more stable form, I'll be enjoying myself a great deal. I know very well that things will get more difficult down the road, that I will find my characters not behaving like I thought they should or would or that there is a hole in my plot, but for now I'm in the place of believing all things are possible.