The core of the book.

Billyjungle
If this is Wednesday, it must be Jo’s Day, and here’s a CBK, Billie, playing white hunter.

I come to this blogging totally unprepared. So, what’s on my mind?

I was catching up on my magazine reading last night and picked up the August edition of the Romance Writers Report, the magazine of RWA. There were a few interesting articles, but I was particularly struck by the one on a writer’s core story. The premise is that we have a core story and it doesn’t matter what genre, period etc we write in, we will write that story.

My first reaction was negative. I don’t want to think that I write the same story all the time, but it really is the tiny kernel at the heart of the story, not all the details. So then I tried to think what my core story might be.

I know my stories are generally about honor. My protagonists are not free to hack their own way through life, seeking their own desires. They have that impetus, but are always constrained by their duties to family, community, country, and humanity. This has led to complaints that some of my characters are martyrs, but then, martyr wasn’t always a negative term. This all links to honor, because the basic question is, what sort of person are they if they do that or refuse to do this? Are they a person I would feel was strong and honorable, and what would they think of their own honor? If they don’t care about their own honor, they’re no hero or heroine in my books.

I address this in one of my books when Blanche Hardcastle describes virtue as a standard others impose on us and feel entitled to take away, whereas honor is something we can only gain or lose ourselves.

Honor, however, is not a core story, though challenges to honor could be.

Looking at my body of work, however, and considering the key core stories listed in the article, I decided my core story is probably a combination of rescue and protection. One of my characters is usually driven to rescue themselves or one they care about. Sometimes that is also protection. Or sometimes the other character moves in to protect/support the rescuer. It’s an idea worth playing with, especially when my next book is ——-Trarfrsm
To Rescue A Rogue. And no, I didn’t start this message as a promo piece. I’m flying into the mist, as always.

But looking at upcoming books, in The Lord of Elphindale, my story in Faery Magic, Gwen is called upon to save/protect Faery. She has to do it by seducing the unwitting Lord of Elphindale. (Reissued in September. The cover’s so pink and glossy I can’t scan it.)

Dragonsm
In The Dragon and the Princess, in Dragon Lovers (out in January) Princess Rozlinda is willing to save/protect her country by giving some blood to a marauding dragon, as tradition dictates. She hadn’t counted on the other tradition being called into effect — the one about the man who saves her getting to marry her. Her save/protect role becomes stronger and stronger as the story progresses, and Ruar’s role becomes to save/protect her.

There’s honor again here, of course. In both cases the women have positions in this society which demand this sacrifice as a matter of honor, and they are both willing because honor is more important than their personal comforts. The men, too, have honor issues. They, especially Ruar,cannot do what love, desire, and the drive to personal happiness would have them do.

Being contrary, I now feel impelled to write something else, but I bet I won’t, even though I my characters and plot details will be very different. The Faery Magic story is pretty well Regency, but the Dragon Lovers one is more chick-lit fantasy. To Rescue A Rogue is Regency, but quite different to most in tone. I can look at my four medievals and see the rescue/protect theme playing out in all of them. My SF story, The Trouble With Heroes…. is all about rescue/protect and honor. He has to sacrifice himself to save the world and she has to support him. At the end he says, in effect, “It doesn’t matter what we want.” When it comes to saving the world, it really doesn’t, does it? And no, he doesn’t die, though he does have to change in drastic ways, as all warriors must. That’s where the title comes from. The Trouble With Heroes is that they want, deserve, to come home, even changed by the fight they have won.

Do you have a core story? As a reader, what do you think of this? I’ve been looking over some of my favorite authors and thinking that if they switch to a different core, they lose me. Scary stuff.

Jo

57 thoughts on “The core of the book.”

  1. I thought that article in the RWR was interesting, too.
    I do think most writers have a core story, but I never thought about this as a reader, and I still don’t think about it as a novelist. I don’t sit down and think, “Gee, all my stories have a basic core theme of X . . . so what aspect of X do I want to explore in this story?” It just happens naturally. Maybe that’s why we’re drawn to some writers and not to others who might be equally “as good”?
    In Reno I attended a workshop on branding. And while sitting there trying to answer the questions being tossed off rapid fire I realized that my three finished MSs and the dozen “waiting in the wings” ideas I have all do have something in common. They’re all second chance stories. I didn’t do this consciously, but clearly I’m drawn to the idea.
    I do think you might be on to something about writers abandoning their core and losing readers. As I think about writers I once loved and now no longer read that “reason” seems a plausible explanation.

    Reply
  2. I thought that article in the RWR was interesting, too.
    I do think most writers have a core story, but I never thought about this as a reader, and I still don’t think about it as a novelist. I don’t sit down and think, “Gee, all my stories have a basic core theme of X . . . so what aspect of X do I want to explore in this story?” It just happens naturally. Maybe that’s why we’re drawn to some writers and not to others who might be equally “as good”?
    In Reno I attended a workshop on branding. And while sitting there trying to answer the questions being tossed off rapid fire I realized that my three finished MSs and the dozen “waiting in the wings” ideas I have all do have something in common. They’re all second chance stories. I didn’t do this consciously, but clearly I’m drawn to the idea.
    I do think you might be on to something about writers abandoning their core and losing readers. As I think about writers I once loved and now no longer read that “reason” seems a plausible explanation.

    Reply
  3. I thought that article in the RWR was interesting, too.
    I do think most writers have a core story, but I never thought about this as a reader, and I still don’t think about it as a novelist. I don’t sit down and think, “Gee, all my stories have a basic core theme of X . . . so what aspect of X do I want to explore in this story?” It just happens naturally. Maybe that’s why we’re drawn to some writers and not to others who might be equally “as good”?
    In Reno I attended a workshop on branding. And while sitting there trying to answer the questions being tossed off rapid fire I realized that my three finished MSs and the dozen “waiting in the wings” ideas I have all do have something in common. They’re all second chance stories. I didn’t do this consciously, but clearly I’m drawn to the idea.
    I do think you might be on to something about writers abandoning their core and losing readers. As I think about writers I once loved and now no longer read that “reason” seems a plausible explanation.

    Reply
  4. What an intriguing topic! And Jo, one of the reasons I’m a fan of your books is that I know I can count on you to give me honorable protagonists. As a reader, I’m always looking for stories, be they light YA comedies or epic fantasies or anything in between, where the heroes win through honor, courage, integrity, and loyalty to their friends. I admire honor so much I’m practically a Klingon. 🙂
    As for core stories, I never thought of it before this moment, but the one common thread I can see in my stories and story ideas is that I like to force my protagonists to deal with competing loyalties and make them figure out where the truest expression of their honor and integrity lies.
    One of my older brothers is a West Point graduate, and during most of the time I was in college in Philadelphia, he was an instructor there. I often visited him on the weekends and attended services at the Cadet Chapel, where the service always included the Cadet Prayer. A few lines have stayed with me ever since:
    “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    As for whether writers lose me when they abandon their core story, I think it’s more that they lose me when they write something where their writerly core fails to intersect with my readerly core. For example, one of my favorite fantasy writers is Jacqueline Carey–I love her Kushiel series and am well on the way to re-reading it into tatters. But I couldn’t get into her second series, the Sundering, because it felt concept-driven, while the Kushiel books are emphatically character-driven, and I tend to find concept-driven books cold and distancing.

    Reply
  5. What an intriguing topic! And Jo, one of the reasons I’m a fan of your books is that I know I can count on you to give me honorable protagonists. As a reader, I’m always looking for stories, be they light YA comedies or epic fantasies or anything in between, where the heroes win through honor, courage, integrity, and loyalty to their friends. I admire honor so much I’m practically a Klingon. 🙂
    As for core stories, I never thought of it before this moment, but the one common thread I can see in my stories and story ideas is that I like to force my protagonists to deal with competing loyalties and make them figure out where the truest expression of their honor and integrity lies.
    One of my older brothers is a West Point graduate, and during most of the time I was in college in Philadelphia, he was an instructor there. I often visited him on the weekends and attended services at the Cadet Chapel, where the service always included the Cadet Prayer. A few lines have stayed with me ever since:
    “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    As for whether writers lose me when they abandon their core story, I think it’s more that they lose me when they write something where their writerly core fails to intersect with my readerly core. For example, one of my favorite fantasy writers is Jacqueline Carey–I love her Kushiel series and am well on the way to re-reading it into tatters. But I couldn’t get into her second series, the Sundering, because it felt concept-driven, while the Kushiel books are emphatically character-driven, and I tend to find concept-driven books cold and distancing.

    Reply
  6. What an intriguing topic! And Jo, one of the reasons I’m a fan of your books is that I know I can count on you to give me honorable protagonists. As a reader, I’m always looking for stories, be they light YA comedies or epic fantasies or anything in between, where the heroes win through honor, courage, integrity, and loyalty to their friends. I admire honor so much I’m practically a Klingon. 🙂
    As for core stories, I never thought of it before this moment, but the one common thread I can see in my stories and story ideas is that I like to force my protagonists to deal with competing loyalties and make them figure out where the truest expression of their honor and integrity lies.
    One of my older brothers is a West Point graduate, and during most of the time I was in college in Philadelphia, he was an instructor there. I often visited him on the weekends and attended services at the Cadet Chapel, where the service always included the Cadet Prayer. A few lines have stayed with me ever since:
    “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    As for whether writers lose me when they abandon their core story, I think it’s more that they lose me when they write something where their writerly core fails to intersect with my readerly core. For example, one of my favorite fantasy writers is Jacqueline Carey–I love her Kushiel series and am well on the way to re-reading it into tatters. But I couldn’t get into her second series, the Sundering, because it felt concept-driven, while the Kushiel books are emphatically character-driven, and I tend to find concept-driven books cold and distancing.

    Reply
  7. The first time I heard of the concept of core story I HATED it. It sounded so limiting. I have no desire to read the same book over and over in different forms and didn’t think I’d want to write it. It didn’t help that the main proponent of it used to be one of my favorite authors until I began to feel like she wrote the same book over and over and I no longer needed to read any of her books because it was going to be the same as all the past ones anyway. I’d pick up one of her books, read the back blurb and have to check the copyright to see if it was likely I’d read it or not. I also think I have a much broader definition of story.
    If I think of core story as theme, I don’t hate it as much. Stephen King in his book On Writing said that he thought most authors had one or two themes that they returned to again and again. I’m ok with that. It’s not the same story again and again. It may be addressing some of the same universal questions, but it’s not a rehash of the old.
    And, I can see how certain themes – or universal questions – would appeal to me more than others. They may represent ideas/ideals that I struggle sometimes with myself.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  8. The first time I heard of the concept of core story I HATED it. It sounded so limiting. I have no desire to read the same book over and over in different forms and didn’t think I’d want to write it. It didn’t help that the main proponent of it used to be one of my favorite authors until I began to feel like she wrote the same book over and over and I no longer needed to read any of her books because it was going to be the same as all the past ones anyway. I’d pick up one of her books, read the back blurb and have to check the copyright to see if it was likely I’d read it or not. I also think I have a much broader definition of story.
    If I think of core story as theme, I don’t hate it as much. Stephen King in his book On Writing said that he thought most authors had one or two themes that they returned to again and again. I’m ok with that. It’s not the same story again and again. It may be addressing some of the same universal questions, but it’s not a rehash of the old.
    And, I can see how certain themes – or universal questions – would appeal to me more than others. They may represent ideas/ideals that I struggle sometimes with myself.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  9. The first time I heard of the concept of core story I HATED it. It sounded so limiting. I have no desire to read the same book over and over in different forms and didn’t think I’d want to write it. It didn’t help that the main proponent of it used to be one of my favorite authors until I began to feel like she wrote the same book over and over and I no longer needed to read any of her books because it was going to be the same as all the past ones anyway. I’d pick up one of her books, read the back blurb and have to check the copyright to see if it was likely I’d read it or not. I also think I have a much broader definition of story.
    If I think of core story as theme, I don’t hate it as much. Stephen King in his book On Writing said that he thought most authors had one or two themes that they returned to again and again. I’m ok with that. It’s not the same story again and again. It may be addressing some of the same universal questions, but it’s not a rehash of the old.
    And, I can see how certain themes – or universal questions – would appeal to me more than others. They may represent ideas/ideals that I struggle sometimes with myself.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  10. Yanno, I have tried to write an alpha hero. Have failed. I can only write gamma.
    Something I do, which is conscious, is write motherless heroines. I know why I do it. Identity. Many authors do this same thing. The heroine’s mother is usually long gone.
    Why is this?
    I do not need to explain, but I want to. I was raised by my paternal grandmother because my mother was 16 when I was born, and I suffered (though I don’t remember suffering) from febrile seizures. No one really knew how harmless that was back then. With no HMO and co-pays, my medical bills were expensive. Grandmother could afford a doctor, regularly. I outgrew this “thing” at the age of 7– too old to be moved out of grandmother’s house.
    Cut to my early 30’s. Grandmother died, tragically, IMO. Anyhoo, I had no idea who I was without her in my life. Everything I’d ever done was for her, including naming my children (after her, including my son!)
    My heroines cannot know who they are unless their mother has already gone aloft. So, do authors also do this, subconsciously?

    Reply
  11. Yanno, I have tried to write an alpha hero. Have failed. I can only write gamma.
    Something I do, which is conscious, is write motherless heroines. I know why I do it. Identity. Many authors do this same thing. The heroine’s mother is usually long gone.
    Why is this?
    I do not need to explain, but I want to. I was raised by my paternal grandmother because my mother was 16 when I was born, and I suffered (though I don’t remember suffering) from febrile seizures. No one really knew how harmless that was back then. With no HMO and co-pays, my medical bills were expensive. Grandmother could afford a doctor, regularly. I outgrew this “thing” at the age of 7– too old to be moved out of grandmother’s house.
    Cut to my early 30’s. Grandmother died, tragically, IMO. Anyhoo, I had no idea who I was without her in my life. Everything I’d ever done was for her, including naming my children (after her, including my son!)
    My heroines cannot know who they are unless their mother has already gone aloft. So, do authors also do this, subconsciously?

    Reply
  12. Yanno, I have tried to write an alpha hero. Have failed. I can only write gamma.
    Something I do, which is conscious, is write motherless heroines. I know why I do it. Identity. Many authors do this same thing. The heroine’s mother is usually long gone.
    Why is this?
    I do not need to explain, but I want to. I was raised by my paternal grandmother because my mother was 16 when I was born, and I suffered (though I don’t remember suffering) from febrile seizures. No one really knew how harmless that was back then. With no HMO and co-pays, my medical bills were expensive. Grandmother could afford a doctor, regularly. I outgrew this “thing” at the age of 7– too old to be moved out of grandmother’s house.
    Cut to my early 30’s. Grandmother died, tragically, IMO. Anyhoo, I had no idea who I was without her in my life. Everything I’d ever done was for her, including naming my children (after her, including my son!)
    My heroines cannot know who they are unless their mother has already gone aloft. So, do authors also do this, subconsciously?

    Reply
  13. Hello all,
    I’ve been lurking for about a week now and am a little dazzled by the erudite (and fun) company. I had to laugh, Jo, when I read your post–I am not a published author, but I am a regular “writer” of sermons (a pastor) and there is a cautionary saying about members of the clergy along much the same lines–i.e., that ministers preach the same sermon every week, they just change the Bible verse they base it on. Perhaps all creative/expressive/artistic professions have a “core story”–certainly artists and musicians have them, although in their cases we would perhaps call it “style” instead of “core story.”
    Sermonizing is the extent of my “professional” writing, but of course I am also a reader of books–particularly romances–with the Word Wenches group encompassing many of my favorites
    If I have a “core story” as a reader that I enjoy, I must admit that it would be “masquerades and unmaskings.” I well remember my first Georgette Heyer book, “The Masqueraders,” and the way my stomach dropped out (that roller coaster sensation) in the scene where Sir Anthony unmasks Peter (Prudence) Merriot. I still think it is the most amazing scene ever written in a romance novel, still gives me shivers to think about it. And my favorite of your books, Jo, is “Secrets of the Night” (the scene where Brand discovers Rosa’s masquerade is pretty fabulous!).
    Women dressed as men, masked balls, secret assignations at midnight, mystery authors–I like them all. Perhaps this reveals something dark and mysterious about my psyche. Perhaps my unconscious is playing out some kind of secret anxiety. Or maybe I’m just still always looking for that “roller coaster” sensation in the pit of my stomach!
    Thanks for listening and keep writing.

    Reply
  14. Hello all,
    I’ve been lurking for about a week now and am a little dazzled by the erudite (and fun) company. I had to laugh, Jo, when I read your post–I am not a published author, but I am a regular “writer” of sermons (a pastor) and there is a cautionary saying about members of the clergy along much the same lines–i.e., that ministers preach the same sermon every week, they just change the Bible verse they base it on. Perhaps all creative/expressive/artistic professions have a “core story”–certainly artists and musicians have them, although in their cases we would perhaps call it “style” instead of “core story.”
    Sermonizing is the extent of my “professional” writing, but of course I am also a reader of books–particularly romances–with the Word Wenches group encompassing many of my favorites
    If I have a “core story” as a reader that I enjoy, I must admit that it would be “masquerades and unmaskings.” I well remember my first Georgette Heyer book, “The Masqueraders,” and the way my stomach dropped out (that roller coaster sensation) in the scene where Sir Anthony unmasks Peter (Prudence) Merriot. I still think it is the most amazing scene ever written in a romance novel, still gives me shivers to think about it. And my favorite of your books, Jo, is “Secrets of the Night” (the scene where Brand discovers Rosa’s masquerade is pretty fabulous!).
    Women dressed as men, masked balls, secret assignations at midnight, mystery authors–I like them all. Perhaps this reveals something dark and mysterious about my psyche. Perhaps my unconscious is playing out some kind of secret anxiety. Or maybe I’m just still always looking for that “roller coaster” sensation in the pit of my stomach!
    Thanks for listening and keep writing.

    Reply
  15. Hello all,
    I’ve been lurking for about a week now and am a little dazzled by the erudite (and fun) company. I had to laugh, Jo, when I read your post–I am not a published author, but I am a regular “writer” of sermons (a pastor) and there is a cautionary saying about members of the clergy along much the same lines–i.e., that ministers preach the same sermon every week, they just change the Bible verse they base it on. Perhaps all creative/expressive/artistic professions have a “core story”–certainly artists and musicians have them, although in their cases we would perhaps call it “style” instead of “core story.”
    Sermonizing is the extent of my “professional” writing, but of course I am also a reader of books–particularly romances–with the Word Wenches group encompassing many of my favorites
    If I have a “core story” as a reader that I enjoy, I must admit that it would be “masquerades and unmaskings.” I well remember my first Georgette Heyer book, “The Masqueraders,” and the way my stomach dropped out (that roller coaster sensation) in the scene where Sir Anthony unmasks Peter (Prudence) Merriot. I still think it is the most amazing scene ever written in a romance novel, still gives me shivers to think about it. And my favorite of your books, Jo, is “Secrets of the Night” (the scene where Brand discovers Rosa’s masquerade is pretty fabulous!).
    Women dressed as men, masked balls, secret assignations at midnight, mystery authors–I like them all. Perhaps this reveals something dark and mysterious about my psyche. Perhaps my unconscious is playing out some kind of secret anxiety. Or maybe I’m just still always looking for that “roller coaster” sensation in the pit of my stomach!
    Thanks for listening and keep writing.

    Reply
  16. Jo here.
    Susan W said, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    Definitely, Susan.
    Michelle, I agree that a core story shouldn’t mean the same story. To me, rescue/protection can cover a lot of stuff from saving the world to saving oneself from poverty. Protection can be an armed warrior or a supportive sidekick.Heroines can be protectors and heroes the protected.
    All the other themes of human life can be brought in. Or rather, we can draw on different ones, thus creating different stories.
    Cathy, that’s an interesting story. I’m so sorry your grandmother died too soon.
    So many fictional characters are lacking effective parents. I think it makes them vulnerable but also more independent. I try to remember to give my characters families because families, even loving families, can be so useful for screwing up a character’s life.
    Melinda, so sermons work that way too, eh?
    You’re so right about masquerades. I’m not sure it’s a core story in itself, but it is a feature of most historical romances. Now I’m a bit worried that I don’t have any of that in TRAR or the MIP.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  17. Jo here.
    Susan W said, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    Definitely, Susan.
    Michelle, I agree that a core story shouldn’t mean the same story. To me, rescue/protection can cover a lot of stuff from saving the world to saving oneself from poverty. Protection can be an armed warrior or a supportive sidekick.Heroines can be protectors and heroes the protected.
    All the other themes of human life can be brought in. Or rather, we can draw on different ones, thus creating different stories.
    Cathy, that’s an interesting story. I’m so sorry your grandmother died too soon.
    So many fictional characters are lacking effective parents. I think it makes them vulnerable but also more independent. I try to remember to give my characters families because families, even loving families, can be so useful for screwing up a character’s life.
    Melinda, so sermons work that way too, eh?
    You’re so right about masquerades. I’m not sure it’s a core story in itself, but it is a feature of most historical romances. Now I’m a bit worried that I don’t have any of that in TRAR or the MIP.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  18. Jo here.
    Susan W said, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
    That’s what I make my characters learn, whether the stakes are saving their marriage or saving their country.
    Definitely, Susan.
    Michelle, I agree that a core story shouldn’t mean the same story. To me, rescue/protection can cover a lot of stuff from saving the world to saving oneself from poverty. Protection can be an armed warrior or a supportive sidekick.Heroines can be protectors and heroes the protected.
    All the other themes of human life can be brought in. Or rather, we can draw on different ones, thus creating different stories.
    Cathy, that’s an interesting story. I’m so sorry your grandmother died too soon.
    So many fictional characters are lacking effective parents. I think it makes them vulnerable but also more independent. I try to remember to give my characters families because families, even loving families, can be so useful for screwing up a character’s life.
    Melinda, so sermons work that way too, eh?
    You’re so right about masquerades. I’m not sure it’s a core story in itself, but it is a feature of most historical romances. Now I’m a bit worried that I don’t have any of that in TRAR or the MIP.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jo–
    To Rescue a Rogue may not have a masquerade of any sort (lord knows I’ve done my share!), but with that title, it’s certainly not going to miss on your core story of rescue/protection. 🙂
    I prefer to use the word “theme” to “core story,” but whatever it’s called, I’ve long been aware that mine is recovery/redemption/reconciliation.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  20. Jo–
    To Rescue a Rogue may not have a masquerade of any sort (lord knows I’ve done my share!), but with that title, it’s certainly not going to miss on your core story of rescue/protection. 🙂
    I prefer to use the word “theme” to “core story,” but whatever it’s called, I’ve long been aware that mine is recovery/redemption/reconciliation.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  21. Jo–
    To Rescue a Rogue may not have a masquerade of any sort (lord knows I’ve done my share!), but with that title, it’s certainly not going to miss on your core story of rescue/protection. 🙂
    I prefer to use the word “theme” to “core story,” but whatever it’s called, I’ve long been aware that mine is recovery/redemption/reconciliation.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  22. I’m not a writer so this is completely a reader’s point of view. I feel like it’s not a change in a writer’s core story that will alienate me so much as a change in core themes. After all, if a writer really wrote and rewrote the same story, readers would get tired of it no matter how good the author was. I think there must be something more basic that connects with readers on a primal level. I used to read an author who evolved from straight romance into romantic suspense. I went along at first, but then she wrote a couple of books in a row where the heroine was married and the hero wasn’t her husband. I didn’t read them, and I haven’t revisited her to see what she’s writing now. There were other factors that changed but I don’t think her basic damsel-in-distress plot changed. Faithfulness is one of the themes I require, and it was gone.
    Jo, maybe Honor is the core of your writing; and you write rescue/protection stories because they express honor. You said, “If they don’t care about their own honor, they’re no hero or heroine in my books.” It seems to me that honor is what is indispensable here not the rescue/protection plot. Characters can rescue/protect out of other motivations besides honor (compensation and recognition come to mind), but an honorable character has no choice but to rescue/protect – it’s the honorable thing to do.

    Reply
  23. I’m not a writer so this is completely a reader’s point of view. I feel like it’s not a change in a writer’s core story that will alienate me so much as a change in core themes. After all, if a writer really wrote and rewrote the same story, readers would get tired of it no matter how good the author was. I think there must be something more basic that connects with readers on a primal level. I used to read an author who evolved from straight romance into romantic suspense. I went along at first, but then she wrote a couple of books in a row where the heroine was married and the hero wasn’t her husband. I didn’t read them, and I haven’t revisited her to see what she’s writing now. There were other factors that changed but I don’t think her basic damsel-in-distress plot changed. Faithfulness is one of the themes I require, and it was gone.
    Jo, maybe Honor is the core of your writing; and you write rescue/protection stories because they express honor. You said, “If they don’t care about their own honor, they’re no hero or heroine in my books.” It seems to me that honor is what is indispensable here not the rescue/protection plot. Characters can rescue/protect out of other motivations besides honor (compensation and recognition come to mind), but an honorable character has no choice but to rescue/protect – it’s the honorable thing to do.

    Reply
  24. I’m not a writer so this is completely a reader’s point of view. I feel like it’s not a change in a writer’s core story that will alienate me so much as a change in core themes. After all, if a writer really wrote and rewrote the same story, readers would get tired of it no matter how good the author was. I think there must be something more basic that connects with readers on a primal level. I used to read an author who evolved from straight romance into romantic suspense. I went along at first, but then she wrote a couple of books in a row where the heroine was married and the hero wasn’t her husband. I didn’t read them, and I haven’t revisited her to see what she’s writing now. There were other factors that changed but I don’t think her basic damsel-in-distress plot changed. Faithfulness is one of the themes I require, and it was gone.
    Jo, maybe Honor is the core of your writing; and you write rescue/protection stories because they express honor. You said, “If they don’t care about their own honor, they’re no hero or heroine in my books.” It seems to me that honor is what is indispensable here not the rescue/protection plot. Characters can rescue/protect out of other motivations besides honor (compensation and recognition come to mind), but an honorable character has no choice but to rescue/protect – it’s the honorable thing to do.

    Reply
  25. MAry, that is very insightful. Yes, there could be rescue/protector stories that don’t involve honor.
    I’ve played with that, as in Dark Champion, where the hero’s motives may be honorable by his standards, but they aren’t as noble as the heroine thinks. But of course he comes around.And she’s rescuing/protecting her castle’s people because that’s her responsibility.
    But a bodyguard for pay story doesn’t feel interesting to me.
    Very interesting.Thanks,
    Jo

    Reply
  26. MAry, that is very insightful. Yes, there could be rescue/protector stories that don’t involve honor.
    I’ve played with that, as in Dark Champion, where the hero’s motives may be honorable by his standards, but they aren’t as noble as the heroine thinks. But of course he comes around.And she’s rescuing/protecting her castle’s people because that’s her responsibility.
    But a bodyguard for pay story doesn’t feel interesting to me.
    Very interesting.Thanks,
    Jo

    Reply
  27. MAry, that is very insightful. Yes, there could be rescue/protector stories that don’t involve honor.
    I’ve played with that, as in Dark Champion, where the hero’s motives may be honorable by his standards, but they aren’t as noble as the heroine thinks. But of course he comes around.And she’s rescuing/protecting her castle’s people because that’s her responsibility.
    But a bodyguard for pay story doesn’t feel interesting to me.
    Very interesting.Thanks,
    Jo

    Reply
  28. Hi Jo,
    Why can’t honor be the core story to your writing? Honor is such a strong word, full of power and imagery. An honorable character holds herself to a higher standard. An honorable character doesn’t take the easy road to success, she takes the hard road. A road filled with adversity and conflict. No wonder your writing has touched so many people. IMHO, honor is wonderful message and an excellent core story.
    Just my 2 cents. 🙂
    Cheers, Julie Rowe
    (author of the Core Story article)

    Reply
  29. Hi Jo,
    Why can’t honor be the core story to your writing? Honor is such a strong word, full of power and imagery. An honorable character holds herself to a higher standard. An honorable character doesn’t take the easy road to success, she takes the hard road. A road filled with adversity and conflict. No wonder your writing has touched so many people. IMHO, honor is wonderful message and an excellent core story.
    Just my 2 cents. 🙂
    Cheers, Julie Rowe
    (author of the Core Story article)

    Reply
  30. Hi Jo,
    Why can’t honor be the core story to your writing? Honor is such a strong word, full of power and imagery. An honorable character holds herself to a higher standard. An honorable character doesn’t take the easy road to success, she takes the hard road. A road filled with adversity and conflict. No wonder your writing has touched so many people. IMHO, honor is wonderful message and an excellent core story.
    Just my 2 cents. 🙂
    Cheers, Julie Rowe
    (author of the Core Story article)

    Reply
  31. I loved that article. But I know the writer so I’m biased!
    But my core story is always redemption. Doesn’t matter what story I’m writing, or what genre, the core of it is my characters are trying to redeem themselves in some way, either in someone else’s eyes or their own.
    I think it comes from my own subconscious desire to redeeem some of my past mistakes.

    Reply
  32. I loved that article. But I know the writer so I’m biased!
    But my core story is always redemption. Doesn’t matter what story I’m writing, or what genre, the core of it is my characters are trying to redeem themselves in some way, either in someone else’s eyes or their own.
    I think it comes from my own subconscious desire to redeeem some of my past mistakes.

    Reply
  33. I loved that article. But I know the writer so I’m biased!
    But my core story is always redemption. Doesn’t matter what story I’m writing, or what genre, the core of it is my characters are trying to redeem themselves in some way, either in someone else’s eyes or their own.
    I think it comes from my own subconscious desire to redeeem some of my past mistakes.

    Reply
  34. Such a lovely motherlode of topics to explore here! The idea that a minister has the same core sermon speaks to my idea of a core story–the emotional/ intellectual insight that the writer/speaker is compelled to speak to the universe, even if they’re unaware of it or the reason why they do it.
    Things like honor or revenge or reconciliation have never particularly appealed to me, for whatever reason, as a writer. I don’t mind reading about them as long as I’m enjoying the characters and story, but as an emotional gut-turner, they don’t speak to me.
    The books I like to read tend to be about some forms of prejudice or injustice and how they’re overcome. Pages fly when I’m wrapped in one of these. And not surprisingly, at the core of all my books, there will be some form of these themes. It can be as light as the discrimination of a high school clique or as dark as the bias between races, but it’s always there. I’m not entirely certain what compels me to explore these themes, but even when I try to be “different,” I’ll discover it’s there by the time I finish the book.
    Great post, Jo, and great article, Julie!

    Reply
  35. Such a lovely motherlode of topics to explore here! The idea that a minister has the same core sermon speaks to my idea of a core story–the emotional/ intellectual insight that the writer/speaker is compelled to speak to the universe, even if they’re unaware of it or the reason why they do it.
    Things like honor or revenge or reconciliation have never particularly appealed to me, for whatever reason, as a writer. I don’t mind reading about them as long as I’m enjoying the characters and story, but as an emotional gut-turner, they don’t speak to me.
    The books I like to read tend to be about some forms of prejudice or injustice and how they’re overcome. Pages fly when I’m wrapped in one of these. And not surprisingly, at the core of all my books, there will be some form of these themes. It can be as light as the discrimination of a high school clique or as dark as the bias between races, but it’s always there. I’m not entirely certain what compels me to explore these themes, but even when I try to be “different,” I’ll discover it’s there by the time I finish the book.
    Great post, Jo, and great article, Julie!

    Reply
  36. Such a lovely motherlode of topics to explore here! The idea that a minister has the same core sermon speaks to my idea of a core story–the emotional/ intellectual insight that the writer/speaker is compelled to speak to the universe, even if they’re unaware of it or the reason why they do it.
    Things like honor or revenge or reconciliation have never particularly appealed to me, for whatever reason, as a writer. I don’t mind reading about them as long as I’m enjoying the characters and story, but as an emotional gut-turner, they don’t speak to me.
    The books I like to read tend to be about some forms of prejudice or injustice and how they’re overcome. Pages fly when I’m wrapped in one of these. And not surprisingly, at the core of all my books, there will be some form of these themes. It can be as light as the discrimination of a high school clique or as dark as the bias between races, but it’s always there. I’m not entirely certain what compels me to explore these themes, but even when I try to be “different,” I’ll discover it’s there by the time I finish the book.
    Great post, Jo, and great article, Julie!

    Reply
  37. Jo here. Thanks for the article, Julie. As you can see, it got me thinking, which I always value.
    But I disagree about honor. I don’t think virtues — or vices — can be core stories, because they have to involve action.
    Honor could lead to many sorts of stories. Escape stories, for example. Or striving to gain power for good.
    So I’d say we have key values and also core stories.
    And isn’t the difference fascinating and wonderful? Pat’s is injustice, which clearly interests me but doesn’t drive me. That’s one reason I rarely write outsider stories.
    Mary Jo’s is redemption, which is a wonderful story but again, it doesn’t get my juices flowing.I rarely deal with characters who have anything significant to redeem.
    As I’ve said, in general I take characters without major internal flaws and problems and make their lives hell. Then someone can rescue/protect, but it usually works both ways to some extent.
    Oh, it’s fun being a cruel deity.
    Jo

    Reply
  38. Jo here. Thanks for the article, Julie. As you can see, it got me thinking, which I always value.
    But I disagree about honor. I don’t think virtues — or vices — can be core stories, because they have to involve action.
    Honor could lead to many sorts of stories. Escape stories, for example. Or striving to gain power for good.
    So I’d say we have key values and also core stories.
    And isn’t the difference fascinating and wonderful? Pat’s is injustice, which clearly interests me but doesn’t drive me. That’s one reason I rarely write outsider stories.
    Mary Jo’s is redemption, which is a wonderful story but again, it doesn’t get my juices flowing.I rarely deal with characters who have anything significant to redeem.
    As I’ve said, in general I take characters without major internal flaws and problems and make their lives hell. Then someone can rescue/protect, but it usually works both ways to some extent.
    Oh, it’s fun being a cruel deity.
    Jo

    Reply
  39. Jo here. Thanks for the article, Julie. As you can see, it got me thinking, which I always value.
    But I disagree about honor. I don’t think virtues — or vices — can be core stories, because they have to involve action.
    Honor could lead to many sorts of stories. Escape stories, for example. Or striving to gain power for good.
    So I’d say we have key values and also core stories.
    And isn’t the difference fascinating and wonderful? Pat’s is injustice, which clearly interests me but doesn’t drive me. That’s one reason I rarely write outsider stories.
    Mary Jo’s is redemption, which is a wonderful story but again, it doesn’t get my juices flowing.I rarely deal with characters who have anything significant to redeem.
    As I’ve said, in general I take characters without major internal flaws and problems and make their lives hell. Then someone can rescue/protect, but it usually works both ways to some extent.
    Oh, it’s fun being a cruel deity.
    Jo

    Reply
  40. Ah, this is what I really like, discussion!!
    One of my goals with the article what to get people thinking about what they write and how they write it. I believe a writer’s process is sacred, and we all have our own. For some GMC is what works, for others it’s Scene & Sequel. Knowing my core story is what really helped me focus in on the heart of my books.
    Thank you for telling me the article made you think. You’ve made my day!
    Cheers, Julie

    Reply
  41. Ah, this is what I really like, discussion!!
    One of my goals with the article what to get people thinking about what they write and how they write it. I believe a writer’s process is sacred, and we all have our own. For some GMC is what works, for others it’s Scene & Sequel. Knowing my core story is what really helped me focus in on the heart of my books.
    Thank you for telling me the article made you think. You’ve made my day!
    Cheers, Julie

    Reply
  42. Ah, this is what I really like, discussion!!
    One of my goals with the article what to get people thinking about what they write and how they write it. I believe a writer’s process is sacred, and we all have our own. For some GMC is what works, for others it’s Scene & Sequel. Knowing my core story is what really helped me focus in on the heart of my books.
    Thank you for telling me the article made you think. You’ve made my day!
    Cheers, Julie

    Reply
  43. One of my favorite mystery-story themes is something that happened in the past, when the protagonist/narrator was a child, being revisited years later from the same person’s adult PoV and often seen to be something very different.
    One example is ROUGH CIDER, a mystery by Peter Lovesey, in which the protagonist as a young boy evacuated from London during WWII had to testify at the murder trial of an American soldier (who was his friend) that he’d seen him attacking the murdered girl and she was struggling and screaming.
    Many years later, when he reinvestigated the circumstances at the behest of the soldier’s now-adult daughter, he realized that what he had seen was not struggle at all, but sexual climax; and the soldier was innocent of the murder.
    Ruth Rendell, in her Barbara Vine incarnation, has written a number of stories of this type, and I have enjoyed all of them.
    But Ross Macdonald used virtually the same plot in ALL of his Lew Archer mysteries, and eventually I stopped reading them, good writer though he was.

    Reply
  44. One of my favorite mystery-story themes is something that happened in the past, when the protagonist/narrator was a child, being revisited years later from the same person’s adult PoV and often seen to be something very different.
    One example is ROUGH CIDER, a mystery by Peter Lovesey, in which the protagonist as a young boy evacuated from London during WWII had to testify at the murder trial of an American soldier (who was his friend) that he’d seen him attacking the murdered girl and she was struggling and screaming.
    Many years later, when he reinvestigated the circumstances at the behest of the soldier’s now-adult daughter, he realized that what he had seen was not struggle at all, but sexual climax; and the soldier was innocent of the murder.
    Ruth Rendell, in her Barbara Vine incarnation, has written a number of stories of this type, and I have enjoyed all of them.
    But Ross Macdonald used virtually the same plot in ALL of his Lew Archer mysteries, and eventually I stopped reading them, good writer though he was.

    Reply
  45. One of my favorite mystery-story themes is something that happened in the past, when the protagonist/narrator was a child, being revisited years later from the same person’s adult PoV and often seen to be something very different.
    One example is ROUGH CIDER, a mystery by Peter Lovesey, in which the protagonist as a young boy evacuated from London during WWII had to testify at the murder trial of an American soldier (who was his friend) that he’d seen him attacking the murdered girl and she was struggling and screaming.
    Many years later, when he reinvestigated the circumstances at the behest of the soldier’s now-adult daughter, he realized that what he had seen was not struggle at all, but sexual climax; and the soldier was innocent of the murder.
    Ruth Rendell, in her Barbara Vine incarnation, has written a number of stories of this type, and I have enjoyed all of them.
    But Ross Macdonald used virtually the same plot in ALL of his Lew Archer mysteries, and eventually I stopped reading them, good writer though he was.

    Reply
  46. Wow. Amazing topic. As a reader, I remember being specifically drawn to a certain type of Historical Romance when I was younger. At the “core” it was always some type of rescue. I read the back cover and if it had the heroine involved in some type of helpless situation, I bought it. I wonder what that says about me…(maybe I secretly wanted to be rescued from my life?) As I got older, I began branching out and getting more interested in different authors and reading about heroines who were strong and could take care of themselves and their families. As I try and write (try being the operative word) I realize that I have two different types of stories. The “rescue” and the “strong heroine”. I just realized it. Interesting…

    Reply
  47. Wow. Amazing topic. As a reader, I remember being specifically drawn to a certain type of Historical Romance when I was younger. At the “core” it was always some type of rescue. I read the back cover and if it had the heroine involved in some type of helpless situation, I bought it. I wonder what that says about me…(maybe I secretly wanted to be rescued from my life?) As I got older, I began branching out and getting more interested in different authors and reading about heroines who were strong and could take care of themselves and their families. As I try and write (try being the operative word) I realize that I have two different types of stories. The “rescue” and the “strong heroine”. I just realized it. Interesting…

    Reply
  48. Wow. Amazing topic. As a reader, I remember being specifically drawn to a certain type of Historical Romance when I was younger. At the “core” it was always some type of rescue. I read the back cover and if it had the heroine involved in some type of helpless situation, I bought it. I wonder what that says about me…(maybe I secretly wanted to be rescued from my life?) As I got older, I began branching out and getting more interested in different authors and reading about heroines who were strong and could take care of themselves and their families. As I try and write (try being the operative word) I realize that I have two different types of stories. The “rescue” and the “strong heroine”. I just realized it. Interesting…

    Reply
  49. That is interesting, Vicki.
    I don’t think our attraction to stories that feature women being rescued by men is necessarily a sign of inner dependency.*G* I think often it’s the appeal of the man doing all the work plus being effective, protective, and reliable.
    No matter how strong and independent women are, deep in our brain is the part that’s programmed to have many children and need an effective, reliable protector. Not because we’ll be weak, but because we’ll be damned busy.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  50. That is interesting, Vicki.
    I don’t think our attraction to stories that feature women being rescued by men is necessarily a sign of inner dependency.*G* I think often it’s the appeal of the man doing all the work plus being effective, protective, and reliable.
    No matter how strong and independent women are, deep in our brain is the part that’s programmed to have many children and need an effective, reliable protector. Not because we’ll be weak, but because we’ll be damned busy.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  51. That is interesting, Vicki.
    I don’t think our attraction to stories that feature women being rescued by men is necessarily a sign of inner dependency.*G* I think often it’s the appeal of the man doing all the work plus being effective, protective, and reliable.
    No matter how strong and independent women are, deep in our brain is the part that’s programmed to have many children and need an effective, reliable protector. Not because we’ll be weak, but because we’ll be damned busy.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  52. One of the reasons I prefer romantic suspense to romance is that the heroines are usually quite capable of rescuing the heroes, and often do! (cf. Mary Stewart’s THE MOON-SPINNERS, for example).

    Reply
  53. One of the reasons I prefer romantic suspense to romance is that the heroines are usually quite capable of rescuing the heroes, and often do! (cf. Mary Stewart’s THE MOON-SPINNERS, for example).

    Reply
  54. One of the reasons I prefer romantic suspense to romance is that the heroines are usually quite capable of rescuing the heroes, and often do! (cf. Mary Stewart’s THE MOON-SPINNERS, for example).

    Reply

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