I've been thinking about a question I was asked a while ago by a friend. How did I start my story? How did I know what was going to happen next? Well, at first I didn't. I knew I wanted Jacob to go into a different world, I knew who he'd meet, and I knew how the book would end, but I didn't know the biggest chunk: the middle.
So, I sat down and drew a map of the land Jacob would enter. I filled it with forests, a couple of lakes, towns, and castles. Then I took each place, knowing something had to happen there and decided what it would be. I did it in a sort of "reverse" way, though, and those of you who've read The Key of Kilenya, will know what I'm talking about. I didn't have Jacob in mind when I put the obstacles down, but it worked out any way.
It's important to make your characters suffer--the story would be boring otherwise. If you are having a hard time knowing what to have them experience, make a map. For fantasy, here is a website I used to learn how to draw maps. Robert's expertise saved me many hours of frustration from trees that looked like curly hair. (And I'm not kidding. :-) (and I call myself an artist... :-))) I used his advice and built on it until I had a map I liked.
If the story isn't fantasy based, using a map would still help. If the character lives in a city, draw all the places s/he's likely to visit. Remember that each location needs to propel the story forward, and you'll figure out what should happen there.
For other random tips on writing, go back to the Index.