I’ve discovered I can’t start writing a novel—even if I know how it should begin and end—until I find the narrative thread. Characters can develop on the page as I write, even plot to a certain extent, but I have to have a basic idea of what’s going to tie everything together as a compelling story.

What makes a story? In a word, conflict. Not conflict as in fight necessarily. A conflict between two characters. A conflict within a character between his desires and his duty. A conflict between the character and the society she lives in. And there are many more.

Where do you start to find a conflict? Sometimes it’s just built in, or at least obvious. In Anastasia’s Secret, conflict is at the heart of the times the Russian royal family lives in. But to make an intimate story, I created a conflict between Anastasia and her circumstances by inventing an unsuitable romance.

A story can be a great story without romance. But there’s no story at all without conflict. And the mother of conflict is desire. A wants B (person, thing, outcome), but C stands in the way.

So until I find a conflict in this fascinating cast of characters I’m now researching, I can make a timeline, I can jot down notes, I can formulate characters, but I can’t start to write.

Author friends, is this true for you?