We Write Wednesdays: Finding the Heart of the Story

One thing that I’ve found over the four or so years that I’ve been writing is that finding the heart of a story can be tough. Yet, there are other times when that heart is so blaringly obvious that it is practically smacking you in the face.

In case for some reason you don’t know what I mean by the heart of the story, I’m not talking theme, but the element that makes the story worth being told. The one thing that makes you want to dive further into the story. The thing that you think people will cling to. Sometimes that one element is a character, a plot, a theme, a world. There is always some element of the story that keeps all things moving toward one common goal. The element that just makes you love it.

What I’ve found is that the heart of the story can help determine how the story goes. Yes, this is something I’ve noticed from writing, but I’ve noticed from reading as well. There is always just one element that really drives the story. When you finish a book and look back at it you see the picture more clearly. What I’ve found is that the best stories have found a way to accentuate the heart. At times there are even multiple cores that can be clung to. No matter what a good story always has something that it bares all for the reader.

As a writer, finding that core is never the same. Sometimes I go into the story with an idea and something I want to discuss. Other times I just want to explore a world or a plot line. No matter how a story starts as it begins to form, I start to see what I really care about with each story. With one story, I was exploring what it means to be human. Another, I wanted to dive into a world that had been thrown to chaos and how people coped with that. Heck, there was even one story that I simply wanted to write because I wanted to explore a character who had been shaped by certain events and how they attacked the world. Every time it’s different. Sometimes I create the story and then I realize that the real heart was something else.

Which brings me to how I find the heart of the story. There are going to be times when the heart of the story is really obvious. It slams you like the Kool-Aid man bursting through your wall.koolaidmanThen there are other times where things just aren’t quite as obvious. You’ve written a whole story and it never clicked. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the story necessarily, but without knowing the heart it’s hard to edit. So that’s the point when you need to take a step back and read. Read it like it isn’t a story that you built from your mind juices. Just get in there, get your hands dirty, and see if there really is something.

In truth, it’s the stories where the heart isn’t there that I lose passion for over time. I don’t know what it is that I’m fighting to convey. I don’t know what I want to share with the world. So when I can’t find the heart of the story, I know it’s time for me to let go. Sometimes that’s hard, but sometimes it just needs to happen.

This note will expire in 5 days: For those persistent AWers who are trying to figure out what story I wrote, I will give you two hints. 1. I wrote science fiction. 2. I often write about places I’ve lived.

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