Gotta Have Heart

The other day I was thinking about what a story needs to captivate and and hold me until the very end. The answer is heart.

Whether I'm reading, writing or viewing a story I need to care about the characters and what's happening in their lives. I adore romantic comedy, but if it's a slapstick run-on with cardboard characters it's only going to bore or irritate me. If it's a drama where I'm expected to root for the down-and-out or wronged hero (or heroine) then there needs to be a scene early on that allows me to emotionally connect with that character.

Speaking strictly as a writer, I often struggle to 'connect' with my own characters early on in the process. Forward momentum is snail-slow as I feel my way through scenes. But then, magically, finally, I'll 'get' my characters. I'll understand who they are and why they are and what they're after. Knowing the characters' hearts and the heart of the story, provides me with the artistic and emotional juice to tell a story I'm not only excited about, but care about.

How funny that, the day after I pondered this heart issue, I tripped upon a blog post by author PJ Parrish regarding this same issue--heart. The post is titled Can You Pass the 69 Test? Heh. It's about pinpointing the heart of the story. Apparently you should be able to find it on page 69, no matter if it's a full page or the last three lines of a chapter. Read Parrish's post for details. I, of course, had to take the test. I went to page 69 of my WIP, clueless and curious as to what I'd find there. I was a little surprised that, since I'm writing a romantic comedy, the hero was nowhere on this page, not even in the heroine's thoughts. But then two paragraphs hit me like a ton of bricks and I instantly knew I'd passed the test. My story had heart and it was there mid-way down on page 69.

My heroine's relationship with her mother.

Yes, it's romantic fiction, and yes, there's all sorts of yummy and exciting stuff about the heroine and hero, but in order for that romance to truly build, she has to address, overcome, and resolve issues between her and her mom. Because it's part of her growth. It's what makes me care for her and root for her.

I've been so focused on pushing, pushing, pushing to make deadline I hadn't given conscious thought to the heart of this story. I'm relieved to know it's there. And knowing what it actually is helps me to focus. So thanks PJ Parrish.

After you read her post, take a look at your own manuscript or, if you're a reader, a look at a book you've recently finished. Specifically page 69. Just curious. Did you find the heart of the story?


Anonymous said…
That's really, really freaky Beth! I had to crunch some numbers to get a printed book page count, but sure as shootin' my heroine revealed the heart of her conflict on or close to page 69.

Amazing! Shaking my head here. Later on I'm going to test my other books!
Charlene Teglia said…
Well, that's very interesting. Right on page 69 for The Gripping Beast (at least, in the word file, I didn't pull the book off the shelf to check corresponding page count) and right around the same spot in Capture Me. Those are the only two I've looked at, but wow. I'll be paying a lot more attention to page 69!
Kelly Parra said…
As soon as I get my page proofs, I'll be sure to check my page. Really interesting!
Lara Adrian said…
Hey, Beth! I was actually planning to blog on this very topic, too! I first heard of it on Anne Frasier's blog several weeks ago and I thought it was a fascinating experiment.

My page 69 (of the finished book, page proofs) is also about the heroine's inner demons! Weird. Ever since I read about this "test" I've been compulsively checking books to see if they pass or fail.
Beth Ciotta said…
Hi Ann! I know it IS freaky isn't it. The cool thing is that if you used this test on a WIP that was giving you trouble and pinpointed the heart, that would help you focus. If the heart wasn't there, you'd have a heads up as to what was slowing you down. :) Either way, very cool.
Beth Ciotta said…
Charlene, I used my word file as reference as well. As I said above, I think this test is especially helpful for WIPs further on in the process. Like you though, I want to 'test' my previous titles... just to see. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Kelly, skim your word file! :-)

Lara, 'inner demons'! Why didn't I think of that phrase? That's exactly what it is. Powerful content for the 'heart', doncha think? I'll have to search Anne Frasier's blog for that post on the 'test'. Fascinating! Of course, I could never consciously start a book with page 69 in mind. It has to be a hindsight, check system kind of thing. :)
Lara Adrian said…
LOL, Beth! I think it would be way wrong to try to write a manuscript with an eye on making page 69 of the finished book nail some central conflict or theme. Oy! My head hurts just thinking about that!

I meant that I was checking books I've bought to see if they passed or failed the pg 69 test. :-P
Beth Ciotta said…
I knew what you meant, Lara. :) I was just making a side observation. Makes my head hurt too. Can you imagine?
Larissa said…
I'm afraid to look...

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