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Monday, July 02, 2012

If I Only Had a Heart

Ronie Kendig grew up an Army brat. She's married, has four children, a Golden Retriever, and a Maltese Menace. She has a BS in Psychology, speaks to various groups, volunteers with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and mentors new writers. Rapid-Fire Fiction, her brand, is exemplified through her novels Dead Reckoning, a spy thriller, and the military thriller series, The Discarded Heroes, which includes Nightshade (Retailer’s Choice Award Finalist), Digitalis, Wolfsbane, and Firethorn (January 2012). In 2012 she will launch a new series, A Breed Apart, which features former military war dogs and their handlers

Ronie can be found at www.roniekendig.com or www.discardedheroes.com


Laughter rolled through the living room during a Christmas party after someone had told one of my twins a joke. Everyone laughed, adults and children. Except—one of my twins, Ryan, who has Asperger’s. He slanted a look in my direction, shoulders stiff and uncertainty in his blue-gray eyes. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head to help him realize the man had told a joke. Then, Ryan let out a small laugh and said, “oh.”

Technically, he got the joke (albeit a bit late). But his tendencies toward Asperger’s wire his brain so those subtle nuances that make the joke really funny aren’t there and the enjoyment is lost to him.

Such is the way with some writers. Technically, their work is flawless. But their stories lack the subtle nuances that make it sing!

A while back, a friend asked me to read over her story and tell her what I thought she could improve or fix to make it better, more sellable. Normally, I won’t do this because we each have our own styles and finding a critique partner who “gets” you and whom you “get” can be as difficult as buying a home. But I wanted to help, so I agreed.

When I finished reading the scenes she’d sent, I sat back and grunted to myself. Something was missing. But for the life of me, I wasn’t sure what. She had POV down pat. A fairly good balance of showing/telling. Characterization was decent. Emotional elements could’ve been beefed up but weren’t bad. So, I read the chapters again.

Finally, it dawned on me as I did the read-through,
“There’s no heart.”

And that missing “heart” in her story caused the technically perfect elements to be as dull as a grimy mirror. It’s still a mirror. But without the spit and polish of voice and style, without the flare of individuality, there was no reflection of the author, only stiff guidelines. Much like my son, who is often stiff and stoic (but the guy is really charming, let me tell you!).


The key is to first know and master the mechanics and the rules of good fiction. Get them down so you know them in your sleep, so well you can’t write without realizing you’ve shifted POVs, that this doesn’t sound in character with the hero, etc. Once you’ve got them mastered, recognize that you’ve got it mastered. Accept that you know when it’s right and when it’s wrong. At this point, it’s okay to occasionally break a rule if it really accents something in the story. It’s important not to look to break rules just so you can say your work is “edgy” or “outside the norm.”

Now that you’ve allowed yourself to break a rule or two, ask yourself how can you “relax” the technical aspect so that more of your voice, more of your style comes out. Do you find when you write, say action (like me!) that the flow is better and stronger? Or perhaps when you’re unveiling a beautiful romantic moment, that’s when you are completely immersed in the story?

Capitalize on those elements that are your strong suit, and make them work for you! For example, my strength has always been in action and adventure. I’ve found that those scenes tend to just roll off my fingertips and are laced with so much excitement that they are penned in seconds (okay, it feels like seconds!). Other types of scenes, like the romance, like “domestic” scenes, are not as easy for me to write. In fact, I used to joke about how they gave me hives or how I was allergic to them.


Putting the heart in your story is as much about you, the author, as it is the story. Without you, without this amazing idea and concept you have, the story won’t be the same. In fact, the imperfections that are unique to you will be what keeps your readers coming back for more!

Just as a grimy, blurred mirror image isn’t quite you. Just as my son Ryan, with his Aspie tendencies, is uniquely imperfect with his rigidity of thought yet so amazingly perfect because, simply, he’s my son! So, embrace your skills, hone your weaker areas, release the reins a bit—it does not have to be technically perfect—and infuse that story with heart!

Do you struggle with injecting "heart" into your story? Share your journey with us. Or if you've found a tip that works, please help other writers and share it here!


3 comments:

Erynn said...

Love, love, LOVE this. So true. I've often read manuscripts and even published books that left me wondering why I just didn't CARE. And you've hit it right on the head.
I think the action bits are actually harder for me. I just don't THINK that way, and I get bogged down having to do SO much research about weapons and how things work. I LOVE the homelife sweet scenes, yet I keep throwing my characters into life and death peril. Not sure why I do it. ;)

Brandi said...

I think humor is one of my strong suits, and I try to inject quirkiness into the stories. It's hard for me to write those sensitive "domestic" scenes, so I throw something funny in there just to make it more palatable.

Heather Marsten said...

Heart in a story is crucial. In my memoir heart is there for I am passionate about giving hope to others, hope that healing from abuse is possible. For me, I'm still learning techniques. Writing is like putting together an onion. The basic story with heart, then learning to write good dialogue, put the senses into the scene, and active verbs. I'm learning as I go, but have a long, long way to go. Perhaps heart comes when one has a vision of what the main purpose of their story is.