Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Is the Heart of a Story?



Does each story have a particular heart?

I've been thinking about this lately because I've started to re-structure and re-plan an old novel, as I'm hoping to re-write it almost from scratch. I have a new vision for it, a fairly different vision, with many new parts and meanings. And yet it is, in some ways, much the same story. The same characters, and many of the same events.

So what I have to find is a balance of the old and the new, a way to combine and mesh them into something that works better than the original. And in doing that I have to determnine what it is I want to keep. Or, perhaps, what it is I have to keep.

I have to find the heart of the story.

I have to find that part, or those parts, that drive the story, that make it what it is. What are the elements that make this story? What is it about this story that first captured my thoughts? What is it that first compelled me to write it? And that draws me back to it now, years later?

I think there's usually something particular. A character, an event, a scenario, an image, a feeling... it's probably different for everybody. And perhaps it's an amalgamation of many things. But I keep getting drawn back to the idea of what it might be that compels me to write a particular story. What's the heart?

What about you? What is the heart of your stories? What compels you to write? An image? A character? An emotion?

Also, the book trailer for my friend Jessica's upcoming novel, String Bridge, is now out. And it's awesome. Really, give it a listen and a watch. You can find Jessica Bell at The Alliterative Allomorph.

13 comments:

Gina W. said...

I am trying to figure that out as we speak. I alternate my focus on characters, plots and themes. I still don't have it down. I think the heart of my current story is the despair in loss. The struggle to find answers and the real life relationships that never make it to their full potential.
Great post by the way! Good luck!

aspiring_x said...

oh wow. this is such a good point. must find the heart of my stories! thanks!

Marsha Sigman said...

Such hard questions!!!! I think it's not just different for every writer but for every story.

Can you choose one element you love most? Then maybe that is the heart of it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's how I approached the rewriting of CassaStar. I took the really old version, dumped almost everything but the theme and the two main characters, as that was the heart of the story.

M.A.Leslie said...

I would have to say that in the MG world, the heart is always attempting to have an underlining message. Trying to teach something important without it ever being known.
In the adult world, we attempt to make the heart of the story the main character. It is all about their relationships and challenges that make the story.

Matthew MacNish said...

It's interesting, because I've already (mostly) re-written my one novel. The major change was the POV, of course, but there are others, and even though the telling is so different now ... I think the heart is the same.

Or at least I hope it is.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

It's so funny that you ask this question, right now, right as I'm reading Emotional Structure by Peter Dunne (yes, I'm recommending another book!). I can't find the right quote, so I'll have to paraphrase...The heart of your story is the emotional journey your character(s) take. Dunne would say the emotional journey is the story, and that the plot serves as a way to push our protagonist forward on this journey she must make.

Is he right? I don't know. The book itself is a bit meandering, but with bits of brilliance dropped along the way. But I know it's had quite an impact on the heart of the story I am writing now.

D.G. Hudson said...

For me, it's the characters that usually bring me back. They keep calling for attention.

The main idea of the story is the 'heart' for me. How I portray that idea (via plots and story arcs) can change many times until I find the right fit.

Good luck, Bryan, with your rewrite. I'm considering doing the same thing with a women's fiction novel that's waiting it's turn.

Anne R. Allen said...

This sounds like a wise way to revivify an old manuscript. You've got me thinking about one of mine. Love the characters and many of the scenes, but somewhere along the way, I think it lost its heart. Too many scenes have equal impact and there's no climax. I'm going to spend some time thinking back to what sparked the book in the first place. If I can get that back, maybe I can find some life in it. Thanks!

Lydia K said...

I know what you mean. It's that heart that often gets me interested in an new story and drives my writing.

Good luck on rewriting yours and keeping your "heart" near and dear to, well, your heart.

And thanks for your comment on my blog! Stonepunk and Nabokov, excellent.

Misha said...

I'm always worried that every draft or edit will make me lose the heart of my story.

To me, it is something that can't just be created from thin air. It has to be there all the time, with every new layer built around it.

Reesha said...

That is one AWESOME book trailer! I love it!
I want to read the book right now!

Adele Richards said...

I think the heart of the book is really your heart - the things you care passionately about - I think this will be at the core of every story you tell unless you write from your head. A story from the heart will touch hearts.