Friday, August 14, 2015

Discovering the Core

One piece of advice I heard at the 2015 RWA National Conference was to know your core story. For new writers this can be a tall order...because you don't know your core story as much as your core story finds you.

As readers, we gravitate to certain types of stories that speak to us. Maybe you gorge yourself on marriage of convenience stories, or bad boy redemption. The fantasy of vicariously living through the actions of the hero or heroine as they make decisions regarding situations we have experienced or dreamed of, makes us better prepared for our own day-to-day existence. Granted, we may never be in a position to help a grieving billionaire overcome his anguish at the death of a childhood friend killed by a mysterious serial killer that is secretly a demon come to fetch the billionaire back to an alternate realm where he is to rule over a fairy empire. But we may need to help a friend or family member who loses someone they love one day. The story resonates not because of the billionaire fairy but because grief is universal.

This connection between reader and story reminds me of the scholarly work I did in graduate school on the importance of fairy tales. Children love fairy tales and often ask for them to be read and reread by their parents. These stories are hundreds of years old and yet, they are still relevant to children bombarded with the internet, television, and cell phones. Because wolves still look for children whether or not they wander red-caped in a forest and lovers that look like beasts remain devoted to their beauties. Again, at their core the stories have something universal, something children seek out to soothe themselves.

But writing is a little different. Instead of looking for your core story, it will find you, worm its way into your prose without your conscious knowledge, pop up in your hero's journey before you even put ink to page. I didn't know my core story when I first started writing because it doesn't become evident until you have a few stories under your belt.

But now, I can't ignore it.

The writer's core story is what their heart desires.

For some writers it might be a heroine that learns she's her own worst enemy. For another writer it's a hero that feels unworthy of love. And for someone else it is always a character on a journey of belonging and acceptance.

And what is my core story, you ask?

I started writing romance in part due to two things:
  1. A submission call for romantic short stories in a science fiction anthology and 
  2. Listening to Kevin Allison at the end of his RISK! podcast every week tell me that "Today's the day--take a risk."
One of the hardest things I ever did was press that send button for the email that held my short story submission to the call. 

A writer's core story is what their heart desires.

My core story is always about a character stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, something crazy, something that may fail, something that's dangerous, and will make them emotionally vulnerable. 

I've given a hero the impossible task of convincing a new lover that they met in the future. I've had my protagonist sit down to conversation with a pretty woman even though a zombie is at the door. I've had a character make a bargain with a fairy and another refuse to change out of a vampire costume before interrogating witnesses. I've had a heroine leave her home planet to follow a princess to a war-torn world. And in my most recent novel, I had a broken man learn to love a bartender with tentacles.

All my stories involve characters stepping out of their comfort zone. Because that's what I want to do and what I wish for my readers. Because once you've made that first step outside, whether you succeed or fail, you're one step further on a journey.

So tell me--what's your core story?

AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites:
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Chris Bailey said...

What a great post! This is what I was subconsciously working on this morning on my bike ride--it's coming out as a pitch for a story, but the pitch doesn't resonate without its core. And I think the core is: a girl who needs to do something cool/adventurous/brave to prove she's worthy.

Aidee Ladnier said...

That is an awesome core, Chris!

Ali Hubbard said...

I Love this concept! I took Suzanne Johnson's plotting class and it taught me to think of the theme. This is another way too help firm up WHAT IS MY STORY? I see a trend with my writing where characters already have everything they want, but just don't realize it. Or, they overcome a fear.

Ali Hubbard said...

Soory for the "too" I'm terrible swiping on my phone. Lol

Aidee Ladnier said...

That sounds like your core, Ali. Keep making those characters discover the truth!