People often ask me where I get my ideas, as if I suddenly come up with the entire plot of a book, fully formed, and just have to write it down.
For me, developing a story happens in stages, like planting seeds before I can reap the crop.
First, I think of a setting. This is the ground in which I plant.
Then I think of a guy. Since I write romance, a good-looking guy, or a scarred good-looking guy. A well-built good-looking guy. Not muscle-bound, like a body builder. Lean and tough, like an Olympic rower. First seed.
Then I give him a basic personality: charming and gregarious, or strong and silent. Second seed.
Then I think of the sort of woman who's going to mess with his life, his head and his heart. She may be beautiful; she may not. But she's going to appeal to that man right from the get-go for reasons that have very little to do with her looks. Third seed.
I knew the hero of my book coming out this month, THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT, from MY LORD'S DESIRE. At the end of that book, Bayard de Boisbaston is sent to Averette (the heroine's castle) to protect Gillian, the sister of the heroine of MY LORD'S DESIRE. I also knew that Gillian's going to be upset with anybody who seems to question or challenge her authority.
And then came what I call the "seed scene," although it's not a whole scene. It's more like a snap shot from a scene, and it's the first bit between the couple that I imagine.
This was the seed scene for THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT:
It's a hall moot, or court, and Gillian is sitting on the dais, prepared to dispense justice. Then Bayard arrives, fully armed and armored, and without a word or her permission, comes to stand behind her. He doesn't say a word in explanation; he just stands there.
You can read how this seed grew here.
You'll notice that, for one thing, there are a lot more people. I had no idea about any of these secondary characters when I first imagined this bit. In fact, I think Teddy's appearance didn't happen until about the third or fourth draft.
But some things stayed the same. For instance, it's clear that Gillian's miffed. She doesn't think he should be there. That's a pretty basic conflict.
As the story grew, however, I realized Gillian not only perceives Bayard as a threat to her authority, this goes right to her need to feel secure. If he won't let her rule, if he takes over, she can't feel secure, and this is a Very Big Deal to Gillian.
Meanwhile Bayard is, apparently, simply standing there, protecting her. Doing his duty as a knight.
But there's more than that at stake for him, because it was his brother, who's suffered terribly and made many sacrifices for him, who requested that he protect Gillian. He's not just doing his duty as a knight. He's fulfilling a familial obligation and assuaging some personal guilt.
Which brings us to the external conflicts here -- Gillian needs protecting because her life may be in danger. And it's obvious Gillian's not the only one who wishes Bayard wasn't there -- more external conflict.
That's a lot for 232 words to do, but that's the nature of the seed scene -- it gives a vivid snapshot of the relationship and conflicts at that particular point in the story.
Often these scenes are at the beginning of a book, but not always. In THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT, the seed scene doesn't show up until Chapter Five.