Featured #TellHisStory Writer: Ann Kroeker
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
Find 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.
by Ann Kroeker
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?
Ann Kroeker is author of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families and an editor at both Tweetspeak Poetry and The High Calling, where she helps writers find and nurture the heart of their stories. You can find Ann at her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
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- i want to be a stripper - Sandra Heska King | Sandra Heska King - [...] left a comment at Jennifer’s last night… way too late for me to be near the computer. Ann Kroeker, who’s…
Hey – I can attest to the truth of this gem of wisdom because that’s exactly what Ann did for a piece of mine – she helped me to find the heart. Now I’m getting a bit better at finding it myself. Thanks for this, Ann.
I love working with you, Diana. I’m so glad you found that you could apply it to your own work.
Yes, Ann’s a real pro at finding the heart. Another thing I love about her? She doesn’t try to recreate the heart (or any other part) in her own image. She values voice.
Interesting questions. I know for me that I tend to be a cut to the chase type of reader and I think writer, but there are other times that I have a purposeful repetitive cadence to a piece. Hearing a critique on a writing helps to hone in where things can be improved, but sometimes couldn’t that just come down to style differences and preferences?
Karmen, I’ll bet if you tend to cut to the chase, this is not something you struggle with. You’ve probably trained yourself to strip away distractions. You mentioned purposeful repetitive cadence. If it’s purposeful, it’s probably contributing something meaningful to the piece and belongs there, adding to that energy and pulse. It’s the deadwood that drags things down, or repetition to make sure the reader “gets it” rather than repetition for effect.
Thanks for taking time to comment.
Nice distinction, regarding repetition, Ann. Repetition works, of course, when used purposely, as one might use it for poetic effect.
I’ve always felt that thorough self-editing would get rid of the other type of repetition. But I learned otherwise when the copy editors returned my manuscript. I had used one phrase three times in one chapter, and I had used the same adjective four times in one chapter. (And we could write a whole different piece on the use of adjectives, eh?)
I recently edited a book and found the repetition of an unusual adjective. I think our brains stumble into a word or phrase. We like what we “hear,” then latch onto it and use it again. And again. That’s why editors are a gift–they often notice these things.
Ann has done some great editing for me, too, Diana–looking for something that makes my heart beat a little faster.
Hey, Jennifer. If you were to take all these featured writer pieces and tied them up into an ebook, I’d buy it!
Ooo! Yes. Great idea, friend. 🙂
I love working with you, Sandra. You are unafraid to bear your heart, and that certainly adds life to your work. Thank you for being here.
Unfortunately, I struggle with being heartless. Getting better though!
Brenda, I think when any of us sets words to paper (or, screen), we have something to say. That’s what Jennifer is encouraging people to do here–to tell the story they feel compelled by God to share. Those stories absolutely beat with a kind of pulsing energy when they are told honestly and simply and from the heart (because that’s where God has been at work). I’ll bet it’ll continue to be easier to find every time you write.
Brenda … I’ll bet your getting to the heart of the piece more than you give yourself credit for. If we include the details of story — of action, inner turmoil, setting, conflict, and so on — the heart of a piece will eventually emerge. Sometimes, I don’t find the heart until after a series of rewrites.
One of the tricks I use is starting the story with this sentence:
“This is a story about …”
(But when I publish the story I don’t include that first sentence.)
So, for instance, my first sentence might be:
“This is a story about how much I fear that I’m somehow going to mess up in the mothering of my second-born daughter, and how much I fear that my bad parenting will ruin her life forever.”
Dramatic I know, but …
The next thing I’ll do is write the story that supports the first sentence. (The story, by the way, goes live at TheHighCalling.org at midnight.) I’ll delete that first sentence, of course, before I actually publish a piece.
So, friend, can you tell us more about why you think your stories lack heart?
I believe Sandra is onto something with that, Jennifer – there are a *lot* of great writing coaches you’ve featured here who go after the craft as well as the soul aspects. Put me down for an order of fries on the side 🙂
We’ve had a great series, eh? I looked at the list the other day, and we’ve almost come to the end. I’m going to miss this.
She’s amassing some great material, isn’t she! I’m honored to be in the mix.
i love this. Looking for the heart of the story is such an intense process. Thank you for your guidance!
I agree, Marcy. It’s intense, and sometimes subtle. Each piece will be different, and so we can’t say where we’ll find it, as in one piece, the true heart of the message/story might be felt in a piece of dialogue in an exchange between mother and child; in another piece, it might be the way a person reaches out to steady his aging father as they walk down the hallway. It can be a movement, a word, a phrase, a scene.
I’ll never live that one down…
Great advice from a great editor 🙂
Laura, did you agree with L.L.’s idea? I think the reader of the Survivor article must keep in mind that the focus was on the *beginning* of your piece…it’s very first words, in fact. Still, I liked how she forced us to think about the heart of it and wanted to send people there to consider the process. You sure are a good sport!
So happy to read your words…and your part about looking for the heart of a story resonated with me…My sweet husband will sometimes read my work and he is excellent for telling me when it works and when his eyes are glazing over 🙂
I’m glad you have a first-reader willing to do that work, Dolly. That’s a gift. I think married couples should experiment, because if the “glazed eyes” evaluation stings a little, it’s best to find another reader you don’t have to hold hands with.
Great advice here.
Ann, what great advice: Look for the heart and trim the fat (essentially). My husband is a heart patient, so I know about fat, but I can be particularly verbose when it comes to writing. As I trim fat on his food, he’s good at trimming it from my prose so the heartbeat can be detected more readily. Your wise counsel is noted. So may I just say a simple: Thank you!!!
Hi, Ann! Look at you, gently teaching in the comment section.
Yes, to what Megan said. I feel like I have gone to school this evening and walked away grateful for gentle instruction. You attended to those who commented in the same way we should write, parent, encourage, etc.–with heart.