During 2013, dozens of talented writers are joining me to cheer you on in your storytelling. These guest-writers will share a few helpful words with you right here every Tuesday night, to encourage you as you #TellHisStory. (Come back after midnight to link up your story by clicking here.) And now, I’m delighted to introduce you to my friend Ann Kroeker, who is also one of my favorite editors of all time.
Nurture the Heart of Your Story
by Ann Kroeker
ind and nurture the heart of your story. Train yourself to notice what’s pulling you in. If you begin to feel that tug of interest or curiosity, if you find yourself sucked into a story’s flow, if you sense a little gasp of surprise or awe, you may be nearing the heart. And, as you would tend to any heart, you must protect and preserve it, for you’ve found the lifeblood of your piece.
Strip away anything that distracts from the heart. If I sense my eyes glazing over or I’m rushing through a passage, that’s exactly the spot that needs attention. It might need a more artistic presentation (to show instead of tell), it might need revision (to rearrange or tighten) or it might need elimination (to clear away anything that doesn’t add value). American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard understood this simple self-editing approach when he said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Follow his advice. Your work will be focused, tight, memorable, and the heart of your story—His story—will beat strong.
Not long ago one brave writer, Laura Boggess, survived an edit that dramatically revised the beginning of her work-in-progress. To craft an effective beginning that would entice the reader, the editor first found the heart in Laura’s draft and then stripped away the excess. Check out “Survivor: The Editorial Version,” in which L.L. Barkat, managing editor of Tweetspeak Poetry and author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, explains her editorial choices.
- How well can you identify the heart or pulse of your own writing?
- When you’re self-editing, can you tell where your own work is dragging or repetitive?
- Who could you ask to read your work and mark the places where they felt themselves pulled in…and where their eyes started to glaze over?