The Heart of the Story

My editor gave me revision notes a few days ago for my newest book, Tall Dark & Cowboy. (TDC will be out in November 2011.) At this point we’re on our first round of edits, and the revisions are all about the story, not the words. We talk about the book itself, the character’s journies and the heart of it.

And somehow, my Wonder Woman editor always gets sraight to the heart of a story. I wrote the dang thing; you’d think I’d be the one who knew what it was about, right? But as a writer, you get caught up in all the threads and sometimes you lose sight of the one that runs, clear and straight, through every element of the story and makes it mean something.

I know, it’s a cowboy romance. How much can it mean? Love, that’s what it’s about. And that’s true, but no matter what you write, every story has a heart and soul – something more to say than the plot. Without that meaning, it’s just a series of episodes strung together, and no matter how fun or interesting or sexy each episode may be, it’s not a good story without something bigger underneath – something that applies to the reader’s life as well as to your own, and the lives of the characters.

I knew when I heard my editor’s ideas that they held the secret, but when I sat down to do revisions today I couldn’t see how to tell it. I could feel myself panicking a little, freezing up, so I moved on to a couple other projects to clear my mind. Clerical, non-creative projects, like paying bills. But when I went back to the book, I still couldn’t find the key.

So I mulled it over. Mulled it all evening, over drinks with friends, over dinner, over doing dishes, over feeding the dogs. I didn’t talk about it, didn’t really consciously think about it. Just let it simmer in the back of my mind. I think there’s a slow cooker back there.

But it just wasn’t coming to a boil, so I figured I’d try again tomorrow. I sat on the sofa to read – and jumped up like something bit me. Ran upstairs to the office. Pounded notes into the computer. Got it!

There is no better feeling for a writer than that moment when the story comes together and the threads line up.

There are times when you have to force yourself to stare at the blank screen, chain yourself into the chair and refuse to admit defeat. I’m a very disciplined writer most of the time. One of the hardest things for me is to distinguish a lazy excuse from a necessary break. But there are times when you have to unfetter your mind, free up your thoughts, and mull.

I can’t wait to make this happen for TDC tomorrow. I found the magic in the story, and giving it its heart wil be giving a gift to myself, and hopefully to my readers.