Today I started a new book-typed “Chapter One” and just kept on going.

Nothing compares to the feeling you get when your story begins to fly out from under your fingers and the novel’s voice finds its rhythm. That hot surge of creativity feels a lot like…well, never mind. I’ll save that for the love scenes.

But there’s a lot of planning and plotting-and panicking-that goes on before you get to that point.

The idea for this book has been percolating for a while, but I couldn’t seem to get started. I knew I had a humdinger of a plot, but I didn’t know what the book was about. While a good story keeps readers turning the pages, it’s not what matters most. After all, most people aren’t likely to experience any of the events recounted in my book–but the emotions and inner conflicts that drive characters to act are universal. Readers identify with characters, and that makes them care about the story.

So who is my heroine, and why should readers care about her? I didn’t know. She was as blurry as an out-of-focus portrait. I knew who I needed her to be in order to set the plot in motion, but I didn’t know who she really was. I just knew one thing: she’s a rodeo queen.

And I suddenly realized that was the core of the book. If you’ve ever met a rodeo queen, you know those girls aren’t stupid. It takes a lot more than spurs and sparkle to win that title, but the public sees them as perky, pony-riding princesses.

My heroine is out to prove that image wrong—and that’s what motivates her to get involved in the events of the story. We’ve all felt unfairly labeled at one time or another, and struggling against a stereotype is the root of her motivation. Once I had that core conflict in my sights, it was easy to come up with a situation that threw it into high relief—an inciting incident that sets the story in motion.

In other words, I’ve got my “Chapter One”, and the story is on a roll.