The Story In You

I tend to wax long about the components that make a good story. I’ve written on the subject at length in several articles at

That said, I constantly go on and on about character. However, there is another part of character that I don’t see discussed too often except in a superficial way. That issue is the “story of your heart.” You hear editors say it all the time, but what does it mean?

The story of your heart means that it must be a novel you care deeply about, perhaps a barely disguised personal account based on a true story. Or the book written on an issue close to your heart, due to personal or extenuating circumstances. Whatever the descriptor, the story is part and parcel of who you are. For some reason, you care about it more than any other work you’ve done.

So why is it so difficult to get the words on paper?

Simply put, most authors struggle to write emotions. People don’t feel just one emotion when something happens. They are a confused mess of many feelings. That is why it is an effort to really nail down the driving force behind great characterization.

The other part of the equation is that exposing those emotions makes an author feel vulnerable. At the same time, writers willing to open up are usually the ones who can wring tears out of a rock.

So, how do you get there? Take a deep breath, relax and drift into your subconcious. Go to that place deep in your soul and find the feelings that rocked your world. Ride that roller-coaster of personal experience - the time you were afraid as a child, or joyful about something you received, in tears over a lost pet, or feeling the aching sadness of a Mom when a child grows wings and leaves the nest.

Start to see your character through other people’s eyes. You don’t have to see every detail. You don’t have to use the same circumstances or fear or pain. But scour the depths of that spiritual lost-ness. Use it.

Look for the cry, “Where is God when I need him?”

Or the forlorn emotional wrench of , “I don’t understand, why me?”

Or the fragile, miraculous joy of “This is my newborn child, my miracle!”

It isn’t the story that needs to be told. It is the character. The story can be anything. But what the character does and reacts to – that’s the story right there. You can put the character in the same setting or completely different but you can still call on the emotions you felt at the time.

The story isn’t yours…but it is you.


  1. I've got a semi autobiographical one on my hard drive. I was fine when it was just fiction, but when I got to the part where the baby was rushed into ITU and the docs gave the heroine the diagnosis, I couldn't go on. All I could see was my ten week old son dying in front of me.

    Maybe I should pull it out and look at it again, reminding myself that the 10 week old baby is now the 14yr old who drives me nuts each day.

  2. Great article. Putting those "real" emotions into words is tough, but when you get them down, when the tears are dried, it's worth the gem in front of you. And who knows what someone else might learn from it, or take away from it. That "wow, someone else knows how I feel" is a wonderful gift too...