Sunday, October 11, 2009

Finding Heart

When asked what it was about her story that caught her agent's eyes, debut author Marilyn Brant said, "I asked my agent that question and she told me that she found the story very human." (Marilyn's book, According to Jane, is in bookstores now.)
I think finding the heart of the story-the theme- the human part of a story is one of the most difficult things for an author to do. There are no rules for that. There are no use-this, not-that, kinds of things. Some people find the theme first. They decide they want to write about love and loss, or second chances or family relationships. Then they create a plot and characters around their theme.
I am not that "lucky." I usually have characters who pop into my head. I "see" a scene and the story starts. I have to write the complete first draft before I am aware of the theme or the heart of the story. Even then it can be fuzzy.
But knowing your theme- your heart is the only way to revise and market your story. You have to understand what it is your characters and you as a writer are trying to say. It has to be about more than character growth and emotional arc. There has to be an over arching theme. Oh, no, you say. I've finished a full book and there isn't a theme. Don't throw it out. There is a theme. It's hidden in your words and it's up to you to discover it.
My latest book, Mr. Charming, has the following themes of forgiveness and acceptance-self forgiveness (Jennifer has to forgive herself for the public demise of her first marriage before she can enter the real world.) Family forgiveness-(Kane must forgive his parents for dying and himself for living before he can create the change he needs in his life.) Self acceptance-that being human with flaws and imperfections is what enriches life and how attempts at perfection lead to isolation and loss. Heavy stuff for a romantic suspense-lol But these themes are universal and easily recognizable to your reader. They can immediately connect with your characters and your story. They are drawn to the human element- the heart of the work.
Once you can state the theme of your story- you can revise with an eye to that theme. Does this scene echo the theme? Does this paragraph enrich the theme? If so, how? If not-edit it out.
Once you know your theme you can market your work to that theme-in your query letter- in your back blurb- in your pitch.
Finding the heart of your story-what makes it human-will make the work shine with possibilities and create a work readers can readily identify.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

The human element is usually the very first thing I create in a story.

And that puppy with the heart-shaped patch is adorable!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks!Some people like you, L. Diane, are really good at the human factor- me, I have to hunt around for


Pamala Knight said...

Nancy, I should just buy real estate here on your blog because I'm always tempted to just set up camp and stay. Especially since you always impart some knowledge that I desperately need or want. Once again, I appreciate you sharing with the rest of us. Can't wait to see you tomorrow and get my signed copy of MR. CHARMING.


Marilyn Brant said...

That just may be the cutest dog ever. I've been interrupted by family a few times tonight when I was about to leave a comment, and twice someone looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh, what a sweet puppy!" I know I just want to hug him :).

Thanks for the lovely post and for mentioning my book, Nancy! And thanks again for being at that talk... I think having time to go over a manuscript again and again is what gives a story its layers. I might have a vague idea of a story's theme when I start, but there's so much I don't know until I've written to the end of the first draft and revised a number of times. Sigh. I just don't think there's *any* aspect of this writing gig that's easy...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Some really good thoughts, Nancy. I agree, sometimes we don't realize the *theme* of our work, but trust me, it's there and once we identify it, it does help with the pitch.

Glad to know I'm not the only one that's considered camping out here on your blog space.

Oh, btw, I posted a review of Mr. Charming on Amazon. It should be viewable tomorrow, I imagine. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

And Nancy? Get a share button for your blog. You can post it right under each article that you write.

Why? How can I share it with the networks unless you do? Now I have to do it manually. All that work, sigh...

Hugs to you

Linda Kage said...

I think what's even more amazing in a story, is when different people pick up different themes--something close to their own heart--when they all read the same book.

Great blog.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks, Pamala!
Marilyn, thank you for your inspiring words.
Sia, thanks! I'll check out Amazon today. Oh, and a share button...darn, now I have to figure out something new- lol- but will get right on it!
Hi Linda, thanks for commenting. I agree- each reader finds their own themes in a book.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

When my editor asked me to send her a couple of sentences summing up the theme of my book, I reacted as you described so well, by saying "Oh no, I don't have one." But it's true, after thinking about it, I realized I had several. Your idea of finding the theme during the revision stage makes good sense.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, thanks for stopping by. Yes, that is what happened to me, as well. That's how I learned the hard way to think about theme early on. Glad you found yours!

Allie said...

I approach everything from the character and then things kind of fall into place a little at a time as I get to know my character better. I think it's similar to what you're talking about.

That puppy is SO adorable!!!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks, Allie- yes, I think we are the same in that process. Cheers~