The way you talk about romances needing to have heart and soul, a deeper meaning . . . I totally love that, get it, agree wholeheartedly!RACHEL – Aspiring romance author
There’s a good chance you’re reading this blog post because you want to learn how to write a stronger story, a romance novel with depth and meaning.
So how do you do that?
The answer is simple, really. You have to find the heart of your story.
Now, this step is arguably the most important in the entire story-writing process. Why? Because if your story has no heart, it’s meaningless. Pointless. And our stories deserve more than to be labelled as such. You deserve more than to be the creator of meaningless, pointless stories. You deserve to be the creator of something special.
Think of a Valentine’s Day card — we’re romance writers, after all, and we’re talking about heart. There’s usually an image on the front of the card that grabs the attention of the person browsing the supermarket shelves, glue holds all the bits of the card together, and then there’s the glitter and sparkly embellishments. With our stories, it’s the trope that hooks the reader, and the themes tie everything together. But the story’s heart is the glitter that makes it special. It’s what keeps the reader thinking about the story long after they’ve turned the last page. It’s what makes your story a story and not just a bunch of events that happen to a character.
What is at the heart of my story?
The heart of your story is derived from its universal themes (e.g. family, belonging, trust, deception), but it expands on them and explores them at a deeper, more complex level. Your story’s heart cannot be described in one word. Instead, it should be expressed as a statement. It’s the message or opinion you want to share with the reader, the lesson you want to teach them, or the question you want to explore.
Let’s look at a few examples:
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Themes: Courage, Good vs Evil
- Thematic statement: With courage, even the smallest among us can play a powerful role in defeating darkness.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Themes: Class, Love
- Thematic statement: Class divisions breed prejudices that can blind us to the possibility of finding love.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
- Themes: Love and Hate, Self-reflection
- Thematic statement: Learning to see the best in others teaches us about our own capabilities and how we can be the best version of ourselves.
Can you see how the themes in each of the examples merge in the corresponding thematic statements? The themes in a good story don’t work in isolation. In a story with heart, the themes combine so one enhances the other, and vice-versa, resulting in a unique perspective on each of the themes. The thematic statement should convey the whole point of the novel, which is, in essence, the heart of your story.
The thematic statement = the story’s heart.
Your dream is worth it.
You deserve to write a story you can be proud of.
Your characters deserve the most epic and transformational journey you can give them.
Your reader deserves the most compelling and life-changing love story you’re capable of writing.
Visit the RTP Academy today and learn to romance the page with romance book coach, Libby M Iriks.
How will a thematic statement help me?
In developing a thematic statement, you’ll find your story’s heart and figure out what it is you want to say to the reader. But here’s the magical thing about story — you won’t come straight out and deliver your thematic statement word for word to the reader; instead, you’re going to create interesting characters and develop a plot that supports your thematic statement. It’s through the protagonist’s journey (and each purposeful scene) that the reader will come to understand your message. Without you ever having to spell it out for them. It’s the very definition of “show, don’t tell”!
Finding your story’s heart early in the creation process will help you construct a story that means something. Your story’s characters and plot will be designed to help get your message across to the reader. Skipping this step to develop characters and plot first means you have to figure out your message later, when it’s time to revise — and, often, that can be like fitting a square peg in a round hole. Defining your message before you write the first draft will save you a lot of rewriting during the revision process.
In saying that, you don’t have to come up with a thematic statement at the beginning of the story-writing process and stick to it right the way through writing your first draft. As you uncover the complexity of your characters and how they interact with one another, your message will most likely develop and mature even more. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
I want to assure you at this point that it’s completely fine if your ideas for a thematic statement start out quite generic, or even cliché. In fact, it’s quite probable that will be the case. “Love conquers all” might be a legitimate thematic statement, but it could probably apply to most romance novels. The best thematic statements are completely unique. Rest assured that the more you brainstorm, and the more you think about the story you want to tell, the more your ideas will evolve into something unique to you. At that point, you’ll have the beginnings of a story only YOU can tell.
TOP TIP: Do not rush the development of your thematic statement. Let ideas percolate and evolve until you find your unique perspective.
How do I develop my thematic statement?
Try these five simple steps:
- Think about your story’s themes and why those themes are important to you.
- Consider how those themes might fit together; how you might combine them to express your unique perspective of them.
- Start jotting down ideas. Begin with something generic if you need to, to get the creative juices flowing. Or, if it helps, consider only two themes at a time and try different combinations.
- Consider who your protagonist is when the story begins, what they’ll struggle with during the story, and who they will be when the story ends. What message will readers take away from your protagonist’s experiences?
- Above all, consider why you want to write this story.
Following these steps will have you digging deeper to the heart of your story — and when you find the right way to express your message, you’ll know it. Because it’ll hit you right in the chest, make you smile and have you itching to get writing.
Are you a writer who yearns to write a story with heart? Want further guidance on how to develop your thematic statement? Check out my free guide for romance writers at RomanceBookCoach.com/Story-with-Heart.