My Three Story Starter Requirements

Okay, I’ll admit it (or for those who already know this, I’ll torture them with details). I’m an avowed plotter.  I love to plot.  The stronger my plotting before I start writing, the faster and easier the story goes for me.  But I’m not a detailed plotter.  More… broad strokes.

Does that make sense?


Okay, it’s like this – I start every story with three mandatory things.  If I don’t have these, the story unravels and I spend months writing in circles that drive my critique partner and my editor crazy.  If I do have these (and when I say ‘have them’ I mean, I really have them -not a vague general sort of idea) the writing is pretty smooth, the process relatively pain-free (well… it’s writing- so relative is, yeah, relative) and the revisions after my editor’s input much milder.

What are my three mandatory things?

#1 – A Premise, the general story plot if you will.  Sort of like a backcover blurb, but not nearly as clever and catchy.  At that point, I have a loose handle on my characters, as well.  It really doesn’t have to be majorly detailed, but I need to know what the basic external conflict and sexual hook will be.

#2 – Character Graphs.  I’ve tried using those clever character charts where you fill in the blanks, I’ve read all the characterization books on archetypes and I’ve considered making a collage but have an issue with nobody in real life looking like the character in my head, but none of that works for me.  What does work is a venn diagram 🙂  Yep, two big circles, intersecting.  One circle is the hero, the other the heroine.  I freewrite their character traits, their conflicts, their issues, their family, anything and everything that comes to mind – sort of like mind mapping.  The intersecting part of the circle is what pulls them together.  I then go to the rest of their circles and find the parts that pull them apart and highlight them.  Not only does this give me a good visual (I make it on a huge piece of paper, then hang it next to my desk), it helps me see the theme and is a constant reminder while I’m writing of the characters’ specifics.

#3 – The Dark Moment.   I have to know what is going to tear my characters apart before I can start telling their story.  I have to know what will be the ultimate result of their external conflict.  I can’t write without it.  I should confess, I can’t get in a car and just drive either.  I need a destination, even if it’s ‘a pleasant Sunday drive by the lake‘.  If I have that, then every scene, every exchange, every chapter will build toward making that dark moment work.

Those are my mandatory story starter requirements.  Gotta have ’em.  I don’t always get them in the same order, sometimes characters come first, sometimes it’s the dark moment or the premise.  But I can’t start writing until I have all three.

I’m working on them right now, as a matter of fact, as I start my next Blaze scheduled to be released in December of 2013.  So far, I’ve got the characters.  I’m still stuck on the premise and dark moment, though.  They keep shifting on me 😀

So… my question to you:  If you write- what do you need to start a story?  If you’re a reader – what do you look for when you pick a story to read?  



  • Celia says:

    Thanks for sharing these, especially the Venn Diagram. I’m going to try that with my next book. 🙂 I usually start with a loose idea of the 3 things you mention, as well as family trees, timeline/calendar, and some visual inspiration. 😉 Especially the timeline helps keep a panster like me grounded. 🙂

    • tawnyshere says:

      Hi Celia 🙂

      I’m so glad you found the three starters helpful. I really do love the diagram, because it gives me that visual of challenges and personality traits for the characters to keep right there in front of me while I write *g* I’m haven’t done a timeline, but that’s a great idea! Thanks -I’ll have to keep it in mind when I start this next story.