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?