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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DISCOVER YOUR CORE STORY by Sarah Raplee

In her August fifth blog post about killing boring scenes, Robin Weaver tells us that every good scene in your story must:
  1. Move the plot along
  2. Build characterization
  3. ***Provide insight into the manuscript’s theme.***
The lesson your protagonist must learn to prevail in their story is the story theme (Michael Hauge, The Hero’s Two Journeys.) These themes will relate directly to your Core Story. All your stories will have at their heart the same underlying message (or occasionally more than one) that it may take you years to figure out. That Core Story is the seed from which all your individual story themes sprout. Your Core Story inspires your story theme to develop.

Here’s an example from an author with whom most of you are familiar:

NORA ROBERTS
Nora Roberts’ stories spring from the Core Story, “You have to discover who you really are.” Can you think of one of her books that doesn’t have that Core Story underlying her character arcs? Whether her book theme is “To love you must be willing to forgive” or “Self-knowledge is power,” it springs from her Core Story.“You have to discover who you really are” resonates with her readers. 

Identifying your Core Story gives you a big advantage when choosing your career strategies. In best-selling author Jessa Slade’s guest post last Saturday, she gives advice on career planning and positioning oneself in the market. Knowing your core story allows you to adapt story ideas to various subgenres successfully. If you wish, you will be able to write stories that resonate with your readers in more than one genre. Nora Roberts writes best sellers in nearly every subgenre of Romance Fiction.


Knowing your Core Story helps you identify ideas and opportunities that are a good fit for you, as well as those that are not. Would you want to partner with another writer whose core story is in direct opposition to yours?Crime doesn’t payversus Crime is a viable career choice?” “If you’re in love with someone, you won’t ask them to put themselves at riskversus If someone really loves you, you can ask them to do anything for you.”


I think not!

How does a writer figure out her core story? It helps to have written a number of stories so that you can look for the commonalities. I had written one novel, was halfway through the second and had outlined three others as well as written a number of short stories before I figured out my Core Story.


Listing out the external and internal goals, motivations and conflicts of your main characters per Debra Dixon’s iconic work, GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, will give you clues.

Ask friends to read your stories and tell you what commonalities they see. Authors often can’t see what is obvious to others in our writing. Try to identify your favorite authors’ Core Stories by analyzing some of their books.

I knew early on that my stories had something to do with personal identity. My first heroine is a good girl who did one very bad thing and is now an ex-con living in her small Iowa hometown where someone frames her for murder. Her hero is a straight-arrow cop who was born into a family of thieves. The sub-plot hero cross-dresses to hide his identity—you get the idea.

COMING SOON!
In my Romantic Suspense novel, BLINDSIGHT (available in early September), my heroine hides her paranormal powers (her 'freak side'.) Her fear keeps her from learning to control them. The hero is an undercover psychic FBI agent searching for kidnapped psychics enslaved by criminals. Secrets and identity issues all over the place.

In two of my other stories, a hero and a heroine must accept their physical deformities as realities that do not diminish them as human beings and may give them an advantage in certain situations. In other stories, enchanted people transformed into animals must hold onto their humanity.

See the pattern? “You must decide who you will be.” My characters don't discover who they are (Nora Roberts), they choose who they want to be, as do J.K. Rowling’s  in the Harry Potter books: “It is our choices that define us.”

Be patient. This is hard work. Understanding your Core Story takes study, analysis and understanding of Story with a capital S. I promise you it is time and effort well spent.

Copyright 2015 Sarah Raplee

8 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for an informative post, Sarah. Maybe one of these days I'll figure out my Core Story. I think it is "Love Conquers Fear" or maybe it is "Loving Others Frees". At some point each heroine does make the choice to choose love rather than continue on her life's path without it.

Lots to think about!

Sarah Raplee said...

I tried to reply from my phone twice, but no luck!

Seems like you're getting close, Judith! Look at the story themes for all your books, and the lessons your protagonists must learn, if you haven't already. You'll get there.

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

I love looking at core stories. Jayne Anne Krentz introduced us to the concept when she met with a group of us for dinner before a signing in Beaverton a few years ago.

My core story has to do with trust. My characters learn to trust before they are free to love. Either trusting someone else, or trusting themselves.

Sarah Raplee said...

Cool, Barbara! Thank you for sharing. I can't remember where I first learned about Core stories. It might ver well have been Ms. Krentz or Susan Elizabeth Phillips...or someone else.

Paty Jager said...

Sarah, You always do such a great job at explaining things. And I love your core story. My core story always has to do with justice. Getting justice or showing an injustice.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks, Paty. I agree your core story is something like, "Everyone deserves justice." That's one of the reasons big reasons I, as a reader, am a major fangirl!

Darlene Panzera said...

Great post, Sarah! I am forwarding it to a private class of 7 women I am teaching to write fictional novellas.

Sarah Raplee said...

I'm honored, Darlene.

Glad this resonated with YOU!