Guest Post: The Heart of the Matter

Amie Gibbons has a new book out! She’s on a blog tour as a result of it, guesting at other’s blogs with some lovely writing that isn’t her fiction as a sample of what you can get between her covers. If you haven’t yet read one of her books, they are fun romps – sweet Southern sassiness, I said before and I’ll repeat it here! Paranormal romance, with a good dollop of common-sense in that her heroines go armed and dangerous into a world that really might be out to get them. 


The Heart Of The Matter

by Amie Gibbons

Have you ever heard a song that gave you goosebumps, and you had to play it ten times in a row because the lyrics matched your life so perfectly that you couldn’t understand how a stranger could know and capture you so well?

Oh, come on, that can’t just be me.

This happens because certain concepts are universal. And they usually can be boiled down into one word, that is then expanded upon.

Most of the basic concepts can be.

Survival, love, recovery, heartbreak, betrayal, sex, grief, sadness, loneliness, anger, revenge, hatred, family, happiness, bravery, risk, fear, death, guilt, hope, redemption.

You get the idea.

And you probably had a reaction to every one of those words. It could’ve been a split-second flash, a memory, a story, whatever, but you understood those on that most basic level.

You could relate.

Writers take a kernel concept that everyone can relate to and expand upon it.

When we write, sure, we’re writing about witches, murders, spaceships, and exotic lands, but that’s the expanded upon part. That describes genre and what the meat of the book is.

But it’s not the heart.

The heart of a book is one or more of these kernel concepts. It’s what you’re writing about. It’s what people will remember

Let’s look at songs.

I have an ex that said he hates “bitch country.” He was talking about singers like Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood.

Why did he have such a visceral reaction to these singers and the song that was playing at the time? (And I mean it was a strong reaction. It turned into around an hour debate.)

Because these ladies are known for capturing the pain of betrayal and heartbreak, and yeah, the urge for revenge when someone did that to you.

And he was the type of guy girls would write these kinds of songs about, while always stating he was such a good guy who’d never hurt anybody. He could not process in his brain when he did something hurtful to someone else, because he couldn’t handle feeling guilty. He would change the story afterwards so he was never the bad guy.

Those songs made him feel something he didn’t want to, guilt, and he hated them that fiercely because he couldn’t process that emotion.

Whenever I hear Switchfoot’s ‘Dare You To Move,’ I feel.

I’m playing it right now.

Because it captures the concepts of recovery, redemption and hope.

Songs have a way of reaching inside and cutting to the quick in their three to five minutes.

Books can and do do the same.

You may go through the journey and emotions over six to twelve hours, instead of a few minutes, but you feel and process as you go. Songs feel so powerful because they do this in such a condensed way, but stories do the same thing.

When the twist at the end was that the lover was the serial killer, you felt it. (No, I’m not going to say what mystery that was, because spoilers.)

You felt the betrayal.

And probably had some denial going on for a few pages too.

I know I did.

This kernel concept stuff is important because it gives people a sense of inclusion and helps us process. Because we know we’re not alone and we see how others think, feel and deal with what we’re going through.

Even deeper than that, it can help us recognize our own situations and feelings when we were in denial before, because we see it and realize the parallels, and it breaks the denial.

Yeah, stories are that powerful.

Woman in abusive relationships have read or seen stories about women in abusive relationships, put together that their situation looks pretty damn close to this fictional one, and that has broken them out of their denial enough for them to finally leave their abusers.

This is an extreme example, but I know people personally who finally got out of that cycle of abuse because some story finally got through to them.

So when you’re writing, of course you want to think about the genre, plot, what happens when, whether your characters are vampires, aliens or serial killers (or all three! 😊 ) but more than that, you need to think about what you want to write about.

What concept to you want to capture?

What emotion do you want to convey?

What do you want people to take away from your book besides that was a great fight scene?

That is your core concept.

It could be something as classic as love conquers all, you can’t escape yourself, the only one punishing you is you, or revenge will destroy you too. It could be a story about love, betrayal, revenge, and finally redemption or destruction.

There’s a scene in the TV show Nashville that has stuck with me since I saw it. One of the songwriters, Gunner, is talking to a performer about writing her own stuff since she just sings and wants to try writing songs so she can be taken seriously as an artist.

He asks her what she wants to write about.

She goes into how she wants it to be young and fun and he stops her, saying no, no, not what I meant. And he asks her what she wants to write about. You don’t just write because you want to say you’re a songwriter.

You write because you have something to say.

Because you have emotions to convey.

And that’s what I’m getting at.

Look back at the last few books you read, songs you listened to, and movies you watched.

Find a core concept in each.

There should be at least one.

You may write something just because you have a story in your head, and you’re reading this thinking your book doesn’t have any kind of kernel concept, that you were just writing out this cool plot with fun characters you thought up.

Bet ya you’re wrong.

Bet ya a candy bar 😊

We put things into stories subconsciously.

I know!

Shocked me too.

I thought I had to make an effort to put “meaning” into my books. Nope. If you have a story, you have some kind of kernel concept that everyone can relate to. Now, you probably have to put in effort to make that come out seamlessly and beautifully, to make it well done, and that comes with practice, but I bet there’s something in there.

Mine has always been matters of the heart.

I was a hopeless romantic long before I ever recognized that.

My first book was all about witches going to witch university and traveling through alternate realities, with underlying parallels to real world politics and terrorism.

And I thought that was what that book was about.

I was wrong.

It was about true friendship, love, and betrayal.

I didn’t know that until I’d actually been in relationships and been betrayed by friends and a lover, and then went back and looked at that first book with more understanding and adult eyes.

I’d written these concepts as a teenager, explored these ideas, with no idea or concept of them in real life, without consciously realizing that’s what I was doing.

And they are just as universal now as they were when I wrote them eleven years ago.

(And one of these days I will go back and rewrite that book and get the series going, because it is bad writing and all over the place, but I love the world, characters, and concepts.)

The best compliment I ever received on one of my books was from a beta reader about six months ago. She said she read Psychic Wanted and it was like therapy, because she had very similar issues to the ones the character was dealing with in the book, and reading through the character going through it helped her with her processing of her own issues.

And that was what I was going for.

I was going for the pain that comes when the denial about a situation breaks.

So having someone tell me I nailed it and it helped her was a fantastic compliment.

Beyond the stroke to my ego though, it was telling me I’d left a mark, made a difference, helped someone.

And she will remember that feeling long after she forgets the plot of the book.

That’s what you’re going for.

It can be whatever is import to you. You working through your own issues. You trying to illuminate someone else’s issues for them in the hopes they see it and help themselves. You exploring something you’re curious about but have never experienced. You conveying something you believe in.

If you’re a person, you have something to say about each of the kernel concepts mentioned above, and all the others that didn’t get included in the list.

So get your plot mapped out, your characters fleshed out, the voice of the book or series, but keep in mind what you want to say. Sometimes it’ll come out subconsciously, sometimes you’ll plan the book around it, sometimes it’ll be one thing and then change, and you’ll have to edit to make it flow better.

But you have something to say besides a story about a serial killer or space battels.

Figure out what it is, and go from there.

You never know.

You may learn something about yourself.


3 responses to “Guest Post: The Heart of the Matter”

    1. Draven Avatar

      approximate translation: c4c

      1. c4c just seems too commonly boring. If I were a sheep, I’d moo, just not to be monolithic and conformist.