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Having struggled with how to start a new story or manuscript myself, I’ve realized I don’t always give enough thought to what drives my idea. A short story, a novella, a novel, they take the reader on a journey and that word itself indicates it’s not a stationary process. Your idea isn’t a story until it moves.


1. Introduce Your Protagonist’s Intention

While you might have the perfect idea, you can’t begin to write the story unless you introduce an intention. What does your protagonist intend to accomplish or bring about? Most intentions break down to three areas:

  • Intention of Desire: your protagonist seeks something they don’t have.  

  • Intention of Aversion: your protagonist looks to put space between themselves and another character or situation. 

  • Intention to Resolve: your protagonist is on a quest to find answers and a resolution.

  • A combination of any of the above.



Let me give you an example from A Spade and a Bottle of Port. My idea was to write a lighthearted crime novel, featuring three (female) friends and their loyalty to each other. Great idea, but not a story just yet. Setting them on a journey to resolve a murder could work well, but I opted for the opposite; to have two of them come to the rescue after the third kind-of-accidentally killed her husband. Their intention is one of aversion (to put distance between themselves and the crime), as well as desire (to get away with murder).   




2. Create friction and conflict for your characters  

Even though you’ve now established the idea as well as your protagonist’s intention, you don’t have a story unless you can use ‘BUT’, ‘EXCEPT’, ‘AND THEN’. What stops your characters from getting what they want? Adding one or more of the above words to your intention will create friction and conflict in your story, and while it isn’t required for your protagonist to overcome the obstacles they face, it’s imperative they at least try.



In A Spade and a Bottle of Port, the girls are faced with a line-up of mistresses who are looking for their missing lover, challenging pets, a wedding reception on the vineyard where they buried the body, and a mother with a fascination for smoking dope and Fifty Shades of Grey. With creative thinking and seizing opportunities when they present themselves, the girls attempt to get away with murder.



3. Don’t get stuck on the perfect first sentence

The first sentence is the most important one you’ll ever write and at the same time the least important. If you don’t write that dreaded first sentence, you’ll never write the story, but write it knowing you can delete or change it at any time. Now that you have a firm grasp on your idea, the intention, and at least some of the obstacles your protagonist will face, you’re ready to start writing. So do it. Write words. Type what is in your head, start at any point in your story, write the worst sentence in all of history and don’t give a hoot about how corny/tacky/cheesy/awful it is. What matters is you started writing your story. I myself like to start in the middle of a situation or conversation. I can always add to it later but at least it gets me started! I often find the actual beginning of the story later.




I started the draft of A Spade and a Bottle of Port with Grace and her husband being in the middle of an argument, resulting in his death, only to (much later!) delete that entire first section. Re-reading it made me realize the beginning was stronger and wittier describing Grace’s reaction to having just killed her husband, followed by being walked in on by her mother, whose behavior indicates she’s smoked one of those ‘herbal cigarettes’ she’s so fond of. The first page conveys Grace’s intention (she tries to hide the dead body from Mum and calls her friends instead of the police) as well as a liability/obstacle (Mum).

You know what they say, we all have at least one good story in us and you, too, can write it!







Tam (MJT) Meijer is the author of Disbelief, the first in the Ben Smit series and out now, with the second, Disregard, to be released late 2018. Having signed three series with USA publisher Crimson Cloak Publishing (two thriller series and the lighthearted Mum’s the Word series) she blogs to share her writing tips and experiences.