Writing is an adventure. It’s full of challenges and pitfalls, rewards and revelations. This month we’ve talked about heart as the magic ingredient in creating a novel that stands out, heart as the soul of the work, and our writer’s heart as the secret ingredient. We’ve explored so many aspects of how heart is crucial to creating a complete story. But, how do you find the heart of the story itself?
I’ve always struggled with the concept of theme. As a middle and high school student, and even later in college and graduate school, grasping a single, main theme felt rather like juggling jello. Every time I thought I understood, the conclusion I’d drawn shifted and became, well, jello-like again. But, when I think about a story from a different perspective, not worrying so much about the rules and the logic that we all learned in school, I’m free to look for the heart.
The heart of the story is that thing–a scene, a character–without which the story simply wouldn’t be the same. Think of your favorite novel, and then think about the first scene or character that comes to mind. Would you love the story as much without that scene? Without that character? If not, then you’ve probably found the heart.
As a writer, I write my way into and out of my stories. (That means that I write a lot of garbage that gets cut!) I keep writing until I finally achieve that one scene where I sit back and say, “Now I know what I’m writing about!” It’s fun when it happens, exciting and invigorating, and I just don’t want to stop writing. I think of it as my writer’s version of the runner’s high; you know this magical thing is out there, you just have to keep pace and eventually you’ll experience it.
I’m sure there are much more efficient ways to find the heart, and I bet there are even writers who know before they begin writing (gasp!) what the heart of their work will be; maybe the first scene they draft in their heads is the heart around which the whole story is based. My initial story idea tends to change, evolve, and morph into something much different, and the final story idea rarely resembles the original. But that’s okay, it’s kind of fun to fall in love with my stories slowly. Finding the heart is a journey, and I love each trip.