1) Start with an idea, or start with a character. (Science fiction and fantasy often starts with an idea.) The idea or character must be fresh. The idea should involve a problem. Avoid clichés.
2) Begin the story with a hook, with the hero already in the grip of the problem. State the hero’s problem early: in a novel, you have the luxury of the first few pages in which to make the hero’s problem clear; in a short-story, much less time (on the first page, if not the first paragraph or sentence).
3) Next, invent a character whom this specific problem would challenge. Who would hurt the most in this situation? Make them suffer. Make their pain drive them to action to fix the problem. (If you begin with a character, let the personal history suggest a problematic situation that would test her specifically.)
4) Plan out the events—the plot—the scenes that show the characters working out the problem. Think of complications (some of them resulting as consequences of the hero’s actions). How does the problem get worse? (Mistakes and misunderstandings? Time running out?)
5) Make setting, back story, dialogue, action, etc., advance the plot (the hero getting herself out of the problem). Omit everything that doesn’t advance the plot.
6) Write in scenes, fully presented in concrete detail, using all five senses. Keep the action onstage, as in a play.
7) When the hero solves her problem (wins or loses) the story is over.
8) Then, revise:
a. Improve story structure (the order the scenes are presented).
b. Add more senses.
c. Add more interesting “beats.”
d. Add more details of characterization and setting. (Look for the precise, surprising detail.)
e. Tighten. Get rid of needless words, passive constructions, weak verbs, too many adverbs and adjectives, anything that doesn’t move the story forward. (The recycle bin is the writer’s best friend.)