The Question: the spark of the idea
Example: For Spirit Riddled the question was "What if people in magic were viewed as demon possessed, sort of like the Salem Witch Trials, rather than seen as a higher class in society (as is often the case in fantasy)?"
The Character(s): the people who will act in a story to help me explore this question
Example: A society that views magic as evil gives us Jess, a girl who is abandoned by her parents because of her abilities. However, it also gives us Mage--the man who has used his abilities and the fear others have of him as a bargaining chip to rise in society.
The Setting: where the story takes place, the setting that creates such a question
Example: We need a SOCIETY that views magic as evil. Bam. That's the setting right there. Magic means its a fantasy type society. But if a society hates magic, how will that work--how will they keep magic down? Perhaps the priesthood would do it....this leads us into World Building, which is a post for another day, but it also brings us back to The Character(s) because now I need a High Priest who will work against Jess and Mage.
The Conflict: the action/driving element that explores The Question, The Character(s), and The Setting simultaneously. Characters can be in conflict with each other and the Setting. So in Spirit Riddled, Jess is in conflict with the High Priest, Thief King, Mage, herself, but also at conflict with the Setting--her society.
So a Question leads to Characters, Setting, and Conflict and...
Character + Setting + Conflict = A Story!
Look forward to more exploration of our "variables" in future posts.