Getting to the Heart of the Story
I talk a lot about the Heart of the Story in my workshops and consulting. The Heart of the Story is the simplest emotional statement distilling the story’s essence.
At UCLA I always had my students do a poster for their movie. The image and logline was to be the distilled essence of their screenplay. I recently came across a blog post by Edan Leucki about another kind of assignment for the same purpose. This assignment was for a rewrite class where writers were stuck.
Go wild, I said. Â Do whatever it takes, to keep writing this thing.Melissa came to class with theseâ€¦boxes..They were cardboard jewelry gift boxes, and there were three of them, one inside the next. The first bore the title of her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, on its face. The inside of this box contained a smaller box, decorated with a monkey (â€śBecauseâ€¦duh,â€ť Melissa said, or something like it), and a piece of paper, which described her bookâ€™s premise.....Inside the monkey box was an even smaller box, this one decorated with a plastic heart. On the inside of the monkey box, Melissa had written a shorter version of the novel description, distilled from the notes on the piece of paper. Â The smallest box â€” we all leaned forward to see â€” was empty, except Melissa had written the bookâ€™s premise on its inside.....Sheâ€™d distilled it to a single sentence: â€śChronicles the life of a woman who was separated from her bipolar mother and placed into foster care at 15.â€ť.She told us sheâ€™d been struggling with how to describe her book to people who asked about it. This project forced her to find the bookâ€™s main idea, its essence. Â It ended up thrilling everyone in the room..The boxes were funny, and strange, and beautiful, and important. I keep imagining Melissa struggling to write in the margins of the smallest box, and it moves me. Making this project wasnâ€™t novel writing, of course, but it enabled Melissa to return to her book with a fresh perspective. It helped her to keep going. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re after, isnâ€™t it?
Okay, so hereâ€™s the homework part of this post: Â Make … something as unwriterly as possible. No outlines, no character sketches. Instead, do something surprising and weird and beautiful and fun; the only requirement is that it provides you with a new outlook on your work, and gets you pumped to write.