A blog about writing and all things story…
My book began from my journal. A million thoughts, a million feelings, a million chaotic ideas. A Long Way from Paris, the story of my personal transformation in the mountains of southern France, seemed like a simple enough task. I highlighted my journal entries, copied them onto my computer, melded them together, and Voila! a story. NOT!
With my new fiction, Harvard Street Heist, I created a detailed outline, wrote chapter by chapter, and thought, aha! Here’s my book! No, again.
Each book, though written in different genres, had the same problem: I hadn’t unearthed the essence of my story. In A Long Way from Paris, I thought my book was about goat herding. After all, the narrator, a city woman, herded goats in the mountains of southern France.” No,” my agent said. “You need more than that.” So was Paris about obesity and eating disorders? About keeping sixty pounds off for twenty years? Or, maybe about being involved with an alcoholic? About feeling a spiritual affinity with Nature? About the mind-body connection?
To unearth what my book was REALLY about, I hired a renowned editor to glean through the manuscript—if the chaotic scrawls could even be called a manuscript —and “Kill my darlings.” (Today, the stack of deleted scenes could add up to a book on their own). I then wrote, and rewrote, studied, mused, and over time, over pages, I reflected in my morning shower and on my daily walks. I finally synthesized all my thoughts, all I had written, to this truth: my book was about belief in oneself. Of course, unearthing the theme wasn’t enough. I, then, needed to apply the plot arc to the story, highlight some sections, dim others, and finally, after I’d unraveled the sprawling mess, A Long Way from Paris was named a KIRKUS BEST BOOK of 2014.
And my fiction book, The Harvard Street Heist, the one I meticulously outlined, wrote out chapter by chapter? The book had no soul. It felt frivolous. There’s fluff, and there’s fluff. Again, I spent months and months reflecting on the story and its purpose. I finally realized Harvard Street is actually about friendship and forgiveness. Sure, there’s a mystery and some fun quirky characters, but until I reached the heart of story, I was stuck. Now, I feel ready to rewrite and hopefully, finish the book by fall.
Although I wrote two distinctly different books, a travel memoir, and a light mystery, I suffered as a writer because I hadn’t unearthed their essence. Through writing, rewriting, deleting, and receiving a great deal of feedback from a variety of readers, and spending hours and hours reflecting on my stories, I finally reached the truest theme of each. And, how did I know I’d truly unearthed the core? Well, for that I trusted my gut. And in the end, isn’t that what we writers always do when we reach the end of our stories?
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By Miri Elm
(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.
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