Our Pages

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What's Your Core Story?

Over the years, as I've talked about writing and the writing process with both readers and writers, one thing that keeps coming up is the idea of a "core story." This core story is an idea or a theme that recurs in an author's books, or for a reader it's that theme you look for when you pick up a book.

Sometimes in romance, these can play out in the form of common tropes. There's the older brother's best friend sort of story, the reunited lovers story, the reformed bad boy story, the marriage of convenience story...the list can go on and on. These tropes call to us, speaking on a different level.

Whether we understand the reasons why a core story is the one we're drawn to, the fact of the matter is that most of us are far more likely to pick up a book that we know will follow the pattern we seek than one which plays on an entirely different trope. As writers, we might find ourselves stuck if the story we're trying to write doesn't conform to the core theme that is calling to us.

That said, sometimes it's difficult to put your finger on just what, precisely, your core story is. I know I've found that to be the case as an author. I've written six novels, four novellas, a number of short stories...and until a random moment a few days ago, I couldn't have told you what primary theme I am drawn to.

I could tell you that I'm drawn to unlikable characters, those who lash out at the world because they don't know how to deal with what's happened to them in life.

I could tell you that I like humor and sarcasm, and that I love seeing good things happen to people who've been through the wringer.

I could tell you that I like to explore the darker aspects of life and how people react to them.

And I could tell you why I'm drawn to those things, but these blogs aren't supposed to be too long, and ain't nobody got time for all that.

It never came together for me until I was sitting on a panel at Barnes and Noble last weekend, talking about my books and my characters, that the core story which draws all of those things together is one of redemption.

But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized it goes deeper than that for me. You see, there's a part of me that is hoping--really, truly wanting to believe--that someone can live through awful things, come out on the other side, and still find a happily ever after. I write those stories in order to prove to myself it's possible.

Do you know what the core story you're most drawn to is, whether as a reader or as a writer? And if you know what it is, do you know why that's the story for you?

21 comments:

  1. The short answer is yes and yes. Sometimes, real life doesn't work out the way we want it to or imagine it will. So, when the core story comes around, it is nice to escape to a place where it happens for others. I think that is why I read romance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Amanda. :) I know part of the reason I tend to write the stories I write is to prove to myself that a happily ever after sort of ending can be a reality for someone who has had to come out of the rubble, so to speak. Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you're at least able to escape to that place you want to be from time to time.

      Delete
  2. Hi Catherine! Claudia Dain did a presentation for HCRW a while back about this (she called it theme), and it was fabulous! After hearing her talk I realized I'm attracted to power. Lol. Specifically female power. I don't like a weak heroine--I want the females in the stories I read and write to drive their lives, not ride in them. Love my alpha males, but I need my girl to stand up to him and anything else that gets in their way. If the heroine is a damsel that can't stand on her own, I'm outta there. So, female empowerment (which oddly enough is the same as Claudia's) is my core. I don't want her to be better than the hero, just equal.
    Not sure that says anything good about me but hey, there ya go. ;}

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it says that you think you're equal to any man, and that's a good thing. (And it's true. I've met you.) I'd love to hear Claudia talk about this. It's something I've been searching for the answers within my writing for a long time, but it just finally clicked.

      An interesting thing I've heard from others is that this core story can change with time. I think that's good. It shows growth in our personal lives. :)

      Delete
  3. Great post, Catherine! I remember having this conversation with Sabrina Jeffries, Ava Stone and Tammy Falkner. My core story is second chances. Not necessarily 2nd chances at love though. And I think in order to have a second change, forgiveness must play a big part in that, whether it's forgiving yourself or the one who wronged you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forgiveness is absolutely essential in really going for a second chance. :) Tammy was the first person I ever really talked to about these core themes, and I've loved seeing how hers comes to fruition within her books. I love even more knowing WHY that is the story she's drawn to. Lately, Sabrina and I have talked quite a bit about it, too. I think she helped me to come to realize what mine is.

      Delete
  4. Catherine, You state exactly how I feel. I too love the dark and tortured characters. I read those books wondering just how the author will manage to turn this person around and help them find their happily ever after. For me, the ability to have the HEA is always there, but the character has to realize they are worthy of it. It makes for the most satisfying ending possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And for people like that, Nancy, realizing they deserve a HEA is sooooooo hard sometimes. It does make for quite the emotional release at the end, though, when they finally get there. :) Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

      Delete
  5. Hey Cat! I think I often feel lost when this topic comes up. I'll think about it for a while and come up with an answer "self-acceptance" or "perseverance". But I don't know if that's true. I think YOU've read every word I've ever written. Do you see a theme I'm not seeing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol! I'd have to sit down and look at your stories to come up with what I think it is. But I understand. I felt the exact same way until last weekend.

      Delete
    2. Lol! I can't believe you're not going to do that for me! ;)

      Delete
  6. I was going to mention Claudia's talk about this subject too! It was great.

    I know what my core story is and why. But I wonder if readers pick up on it? It would be interesting to talk it over with someone who is not a writer...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would LOVE to sit down with some readers some day and talk about it. The thing I've noticed is that no matter what message we, as writers, think we want readers to take from our work, they will relate to it however they relate to it...and that could vary based on the way their day has gone! I know I get very different things out of books when I read them today vs if I read them a decade ago.

      Delete
  7. Catherine, great blog! My core story seems to be family values. Blood is thicker than water. I seem to have a recurring theme surrounding family's that shows that no matter what happens in a family, forgiveness is always possible. I think my family has been such an integral part of my life both in the good times and in the bad, and they've stood by me, no matter what, that I am drawn to stories that are similar. I love stories about big families who turn woes into success stories.

    I also carry a theme about the heroines journey. Everyone has a journey and I think what makes each one special is the path we take and not necessarily the end destination. Humans are so incredible resilient and we don't even realize this until we're tested. We're much stronger than even we realize sometimes and those themes show up in both what I write and what I read.

    Super blog subject! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Suzie! I've definitely noticed a theme of perseverance and resiliency in your books. You never give up, and neither do your characters. :)

      Delete
  8. Catherine,
    I've been giving this some thought today and I think a lot of my stories have to do with people not being what they seem. I had three experiences in my early adulthood where I was blindsided by people I thought I could trust. They were living lies while projecting this image of being someone else.

    After those experiences, I didn't take anything at face value anymore. Eventually it turned into a strength. Instead of automatically distrusting everyone, I really try to see behind people's defenses and the image they put on for others. I don't make quick judgments, which has turned out to be a blessing. There are people in my life I love now that I wouldn't have given the time of day if I'd allowed their defenses to turn me off.

    So, this is a really long answer, but I see this recurring theme in my work of characters not being exactly what they seem on the surface.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love your answer, Samantha! It's amazing how things in our personal lives can shape the stories that we tell, whether we consciously set out to tell that part of the story or not. Like I said, it took me many books to really see what the pattern is. But once I found the pattern, I absolutely knew why it had formed.

      Delete
  9. Speaking of 'core'...you got right to the core of why I read and write romance. Life, in a lot of ways, has been a struggle for me, and their is something so freeing in being able to enter into a literary world where in spite of all the crap that unfolds, ultimately the deserving hero/heroine are going to come out with happiness.
    I personally write characters who have struggled/struggle in life, get kicked down, and claw their way towards happiness. Which probably has a lot to do with my reasons for reading romance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Christi. Sometimes it feels like the only way the people who deserve a break in life will get one is if they're the hero or heroine in a romance novel. :)

      Delete