Take a moment and think back to your first love. Try to recall what you loved about her or him. No really, close your eyes and try to pull up the memories.
Whether your first love was a brief encounter or a long, enduring relationship, you won’t be able to recall every single moment and every single thing about that person you so adored… especially, if your experience was many years ago.
Story is no different.
After a person reads a story (even immediately after), people don’t remember the entire story.
They remember the feeling of the emotional journey… and key moments.
When you write.
Write so people fall in love with your work.
If you develop your story proper, it will be deep and complex, engaging the reader’s emotions on multiple levels and fronts. However, like cleaning up, putting on your best duds, and best cologne, you can make the emotional impact of your story nigh irresistible by focusing on two areas; the emotional center, literally, the heart of the story and the heartbeat of the entire narrative.
The Heart of the Story
While you may remember many “special moments” with someone you love, there will almost always be one that stands out above the others. Something that defines your mental image of who that person was, what they meant to you, and the feelings you had for them.
This moment is the heart of your story.
The first critical step in developing the Heart of your Story is, identifying it.
Because we experience stories primarily through characters, 99.98% of the time, the heart of your story will be anchored to your protagonist. It’s not about the rebels defeating the empire by blowing up the Death Star… it’s about Luke finally tapping his power and making the impossible torpedo shot.
The heart of the story is often found in the climax of the story.
(Though this is not necessarily the case.)
- You may find it when the Protagonist overcomes the All is Lost moment…
- Or at the completion of the Character’s arc…
- The recognition of their New Belief….
- Or the moment of their Big Choice…
In Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan, the heart of the story isn’t in the climatic battle with the MAF (Khan), but in engineering, when Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the ship.
In E.T., the heart of the story comes before the climatic g-men chase scene, when E.T. and Elliot separate and E.T. dies, only to come back to life reinvigorated OR, ~maybe~ in the denouement when E.T. Leaves, “I’ll always be right here.” (We’ll talk more about being unsure of the heart of the story in a second.)
In reality, the one scene that holds the Heart of the Story can be found anywhere… and that’s why it’s important to identify it.
In a novel or screenplay, the heart of the story can often manifest longer—as an extended beat or even full scene.
In comics, it’s important to identify the ONE PANEL that carries that beat or scene.
So once you have it, what do you do with it?