Sunday, March 20, 2011

The heart of the story

I was going to moan about various aspects of my ever so slightly stressful life, but then I kind of put it all into perspective and frankly my house hasn't fallen down, nor has it been washed away by a giant wave, and I'm not being bombed or attacked. In fact, really, stuff could be better, but all the important people are right here in this room with me (apart from the cat).

Then I thought I'd explain where I've been since last week, but I think I can sum that up in one sentence. I went to Berlin (HOORAY!!!) and then was very, very busy with work.

Right, so now let's talk about some interesting stuff and I warn you now that I am:
a) going to waffle on;
b) ask YOU some rather difficult questions.

On the 1st April SCBWI France has organised a cocktail party, literary discussion, and pitch session with agent John. M. Cusick. He has also written a book called Girl Parts and if you don't know who he is, there's an interview here.

The literary discussion will focus on: How can I find the heart of my story and will it be enough to make an agent fall in love?

So I'll now start to waffle. There's been a lot of stuff about being a pantser or plotter bobbing around the blogospehere, and I have to say that up until NaNo this year I was a complete pantser. Now, although I planned A twist in the tail, I did somewhere in the back of my head question whether the planning was going to leech all the creativity out of writing. So I knew what I was going to write, but ... HERE COMES b) well what's the heart of my story? I know, you don't know, you haven't read it, but what is it? Is it the themes? And if it is the themes, how do I say it in a snappy, hey, love this story kind of way? And should we plan this heart, or does this heart just come out as you are writing? 

BACK TO a) Personally, I think that the heart comes out as you write. I don't think I've ever sat down and consciously thought: I'm going to write a story about homeostasis (partly because I didn't even know what it meant until last week), but what do you know, one of my characters is the epitome of homeostasis. And I didn't conciously plan to write a book about friendship either, but that's what jumped out as I was writing. What I'm coming around to thinking is this. The more I read author websites/blog posts the more evident it becomes that we all write in different ways. So whether you are planner or pantser it doesn't matter, but there comes a point where we have to find the heart to give the story a healthy beat. 

What I mean is at the moment I am wrestling with a very wet MC (no pun intended). What jumped out after the first draft was that the reader had no idea what the MC's motivation was, so I built up the theme of friendship and made that clearer. But the MC is still bleurgh. And now (seriously, just now) I'm thinking that my MC is really dealing with loss and that might be what makes her a stronger character. So perhaps the heart of the story is really what's in the heart of that main character, what is driving your main character and therefore the story.

BACK TO b) So what do you think? Please let me know before April 1st in the comments. Ta very much.


Theresa Milstein said...

If your MC is dealing with loss, which is flavoring her actions throughout, that's the heart of your story. I find that if I'm forced to write a 1 or 2 sentence pitch, I figure out the heart pretty easily.

I'm reading The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. This story centers of the protagonist's grief.

Good luck!

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Beth Kemp said...

I agree that it sounds like loss might be at the heart of your story.

I also think that theme often just emerges, however much we might think we've planned for it. We can't help but reveal ourselves in our writing. I'm forever saying something similar in teaching Lit classes: obviously no one writer could intend every theme that we can pull out of their work, but these are things that concern/interest the writer, so they seep into the writing.

However, if you can name a couple of themes or issues in your WiP, one of those is bound to be the heart.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Hi Theresa and Beth,

I'm thinking loss has to play a pretty important part in the story and I was a bit carried away with the plot in the first draft! Imagine what a stronger first draft if I had realised that? Oh and Theresa, I'm working on the pitch right now! We'll see what else comes out.

Austin James said...

The heart of a story is the part that speaks to you and keeps you up at night thinking about... at least that's what I think.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Oh, I like that answer. Mmm... You guys don't want to write my pitch as well do you?

LJCohen said...

I love what you said about having everyone you need right there with you. That perspective is so important. Re: the heart of the story--I'd not heard it in that term before but I would think it's what drives the characters, what they most want but don't even admit to themselves.

Rachna Chhabria said...

The heart of a story is what appeals to you emotionally about and in the story, how much of your heart strings it tugs.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Oh Lisa and Rachna, I was having a laptop crisis (my powerpack died) and I thought I had already replied. Thank you for your comments. In fact everone's comments have been very helpful. And Lisa in terms of perspective, I am keeping that thought very much in the forefront of my mind as we enter those frantic weeks before we move.


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