Ya Gotta Have Heart

heartWhile taking a writing break today, I re-read a short chapter in James Scott Bell’s writing book called The Art of War for Writers. It was about writing with heart, with passion, with purpose.

I don’t know about you, but I find it really difficult to write something that my heart just isn’t in. It feels flat, and when my critique partner gets hold of it, she says things like, “It’s really smooth, but I don’t feel any emotional connection to your main character.” She can’t connect with her heart. Ouch.

The Heart of the Matter

So how do you get this heart on the page? Bell has an intriguing formula for it. He says,

“Heart = passion + purpose.

Passion means heat. Strength of feeling.

Purpose means you know what you want the reader to feel when she gets to the end of your story.

Heart means directing passion so it serves your desired purpose.”

All Styles Need Heart

All writing styles can have heart. Light humorous styles. Darker serious styles. Breezy styles. It’s not about your style. I recently re-read two fantastic adult novels that both had tremendous heart. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was lighter, often humorous, reading. The Help (a first novel, by the way) was in a more serious vein, but the passion and purpose in both novels had me turning pages as fast as I could.

So how do you put “heart” into your writing? It isn’t just about passionate feeling. We’ve all read stories with tons of passion, but it meandered all over the place and then just stopped. No purpose. And we’ve all read books–or at least started them–where the purpose was bold as a billboard. But without passionate feeling, it wasn’t engaging.

Simple Exercise

Bell suggested a simple three-part exercise for discovering the heart for your next novel.

  1. Make a list of things you feel very strongly about.
  2. List your favorite books and movies, describing how each one made you feel at the end.
  3. Choose one item from each list and brainstorm on how you might combine them in a story.

I haven’t tried this exercise yet, but I’m going to. With my current novel, I know the purpose. But somewhere along the way of several revisions, I lost touch with the passion part.

I think I’ll take my main character for a long walk and get reacquainted with her–and see if I can’t get that passion back. It will be good for the book–and I’ll enjoy the writing a lot more!

How do YOU find the “heart” of your own stories? Leave a comment!

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2 Responses to Ya Gotta Have Heart

  1. Vijaya says:

    How do YOU find the “heart” of your own stories?

    Usually in revision :) I typically have to do one pass just for emotions … adding a reaction, internal thought, and sometimes plain speaking.

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