Jeanne: What’s Your Story?

A couple of years ago, at a writing workshop, I fell into conversation with another writer.

“What’s your story?” she asked me.

I started to explain that I wasn’t really far enough along with the book I was working on to provide a synopsis, but she shook her head.

“Not your book. What’s your story?”

She’d once heard Julia Quinn explain that every author has a core story they tell over and over with various plots and characters. Something inside them makes them revisit this theme over and over.

For Julia, it’s the marriage of convenience. Most of her books are about strangers forced to make a go of a relationship not of their choosing.

Other authors love the Cinderella story. They’ll tell the poor-downtrodden-girl-meets-handsome-wealthy guy story over and over. Still others are suckers for second-chance-at-love or enemies-to-lovers or fake engagements or jilted brides.

Kay Keppler, one of my friends from Eight Ladies Writing, mentioned the other day that the most common trope among among self-published authors, it’s billionaires (which is the Cinderella story.) Among Harlequin romances, it’s cowboys. I haven’t read any Harlequin’s in a long time (except for medical romances written by my chapter-mater, Robin Gianna), so I don’t know what the core stories are there.

Jenny Crusie, my former teacher at McDaniel’s romance writing program and all-time favorite romance author, writes about women who have spent their entire lives fixing things for other people and finally decides to fix her own life.

(Thanks to  Eight Ladies Writing contributor, Jilly Wood, for that analysis.)

My own core story emerged a few years ago after I wrote a post inviting readers to chime in on which book I should work on next.  When I posted the link on Facebook, one friend commented that all my books seemed to be about “asshole guys who have to learn their lesson.”

His comment made me laugh, but after I thought about it, I realized he was right. Jilly suggested an alternative view might be “woman with impossibly high expectations of herself learns not to demand so much.” And she’s got a point. While the guys in my books generally learn unselfishness and responsibility, the women mostly learn to lighten up on themselves.

So, what’s your core story?

10 thoughts on “Jeanne: What’s Your Story?

  1. I think my core story is “finding love and happiness through community,” but maybe that description needs refinement.

    On the flight back home after Thanksgiving, I watched the movie “Table 19” starring Anna Kendrick. It’s a romantic comedy in which Kendrick plays the best friend of the bride, except that she’s relegated to the least important table at the reception because she’s broken up with the bride’s brother, who is the best man at his sister’s wedding. The other guests at Table 19 are a wonderful mix of old and young and dysfunctional, and all their problems and troubles are revealed, sharpened, and resolved by film’s end, including Kendrick’s, of course. They all become friends and at the end of the movie, they’re all dancing together in the empty ballroom. I really enjoyed the movie, but I haven’t heard much about it, so I think it must have vanished pretty quickly, not sure why—maybe because the male “romantic lead” has such a small part.

    • I love the sound of it. I’d never heard of the concept of community-building in novels (or screenplays) prior to McDaniel and it’s still something I struggle with. Sounds like a good movie to watch for pointers!

  2. This is a great question and I’m not sure about the answer to mine, except (when thinking about the stories I want to write) “there’s more than meets the eye?” I’m not even sure that makes sense, but I’m going to think about this some more and see if I can come up with something that resonates.

  3. (-: I’m a little afraid to dig too deep into this one — if I figure out what my core story is, will it still be interesting and worth exploring to me? I do know that I can’t be having with alpha-protagonists that throw their weight around. I tend to write “wimps” (to put it uncharitably), but I like my heroes to be a little confounded by the heroine. They don’t save the day themselves; they save it with the help of the heroine (or it’s entirely the heroine’s adventure, and the man is along as . . . McGuffin? Eye candy? I’m not completely sure).

      • (-: That’s so kind of you to say, and who am I to argue? LOL, my heroes, though, don’t do the rescuing. They help the hero(ine) do their own rescuing. They are very reactive, not proactive. Which isn’t terrible when it works, LOL.

  4. As you know, I think mine is something like “woman seeking her place in the world finds community” or “finds family of the heart.” That could stand improvement, but something along those lines.

    My answer probably sounds a little like Kay’s. I *think* the difference is that her heroines use their community to save the day, and mine earn their place in the community by saving the day.

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