Every story needs a heart
All stories need plot twists, conflict and drama but, to satisfy any reader, there needs to be a strong central premise that keeps them hooked as the story moves forward.
It’s easy to barrel toward the end of your work in progress without giving the core enough thought. But, there are a few simple exercises you can do to help establish your core theme which, in turn, will help the rest of your work develop and flow better.
One word summary
It may seem like an impossible feat to sum up a whole novel with one word but, if you can pick a single underlying theme, it will keep you focused as you write. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee could have ‘prejudice’ as its one word summary.
There are lots of other words you could use for yours, including:
Your word should describe your main character’s ‘need’ and your readers’ ‘want’.
If you were in an elevator with a potential publisher and had 30 seconds to tell them about your book, how would you get them interested by the time you reach your floor?
Being able to describe your story in a single sentence will give you clarity around your core theme. Let’s explore a few examples using classic novels:
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: An ambitious but misguided young man creates a human built from corpses. When the creation is abandoned, it starts killing everyone.
- Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: A doomed yet passionate love affair between Catherine and her adopted sibling, Heathcliff, leads to betrayal and revenge.
When creating your elevator pitch, try concentrating on three main areas:
Creating a simple sentence to frame the core of your story early will not only help you during the writing process but it can be useful later when writing your synopsis or blurb.
One of my favourite tools for staying focused on my core theme is a book board.
A book board can be physical, a place where you stick pictures and photographs to represent your theme, or it can be digital (Pinterest is great for this).
Collect anything on your board that helps you visualise your theme. For example, if a family is at the core, you could collect images that represent the key members and the bonds between them. Visual tools are a huge motivator when writing too.
Use all three ways to get to the core of your story or just the ones that work for you.
The clearer your heart, the more powerful your story.