Good morning authors. Do you know what your story is?
I’ve been thinking lately about defining our stories—our message—after recently being invited onto a couple of high-profile podcasts. Any of you who regularly read this blog may know where I’m going with this: Opportunities like this, however exciting and appreciated, can sometimes bring on a bout of my personal demon, impostor syndrome.
Luckily I’ve been learning how to recognize the onset of this scamp and techniques for wrangling that little red devil back into his cave before he really starts throwing a party in my psyche.
One of the best ways is to not get caught up in my own fears and nerves, but to take my focus outward: to the work.
And the best way to do that is to first look inward and be crystal-clear on what my message and purpose are, and why and for whom I want to share this work. Once I know that–to the tiniest corpuscle of my heart–interviews become enjoyable conversations about something I’m passionate about, with other people who are also passionate about this craft and business, and I can relax, enjoy, and authentically and clearly share information and experience I have that might be helpful for authors.
This same technique for focusing on the work and your purpose can also help center and ground your writing.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the myriad moving parts of a manuscript–bringing your characters to life, giving them something to fight for and a reason to do it, sending them on a journey, creating suspense to hook the reader, keeping momentum moving, polishing your prose, and on and on and on–that we can lose sight of the heart of that story, the reason we wanted to tell it in the first place.
And that’s when things can get muddy, stories can lose their way, and authors can begin to feel lost or overwhelmed.
I’ve written before about defining your story question here–that central mystery or unknown that keeps readers reading to find out the answer–and that’s part of knowing what your message is.
It’s also related to your theme, the idea or meaning that underlies and unifies the story.
But your message is more than any one of those things, intrinsically, foundationally tied in with your intentions as an author, as a creative, as a human being, in bringing this story to life.
What is your purpose in telling this story? What motivated you to want to tell it? What overarching message are you hoping to share with readers, or how are you hoping this story might affect them, or shed insight, or make them think?
For instance, in my most recent fiction release (A Little Bit of Grace, under my pen name, Phoebe Fox), the story is about a divorced woman with no remaining family who discovers a long-lost relative she never knew about, and how getting to know her changes the course of the protagonist’s life.
The story question–that central unknown that keeps reader wondering about the answer throughout the story–is why her family erased this woman from existence.
The theme is family and forgiveness.
But the message I wanted to share was whether and how you can forgive the unforgivable with someone you love deeply.
Knowing that central message was my North Star. It kept me focused on the story when it sometimes threatened to jump the track as I was drafting and in endless revisions. (You know what I’m talking about, author friends.) It provided a powerful touchstone for me in summing it up in the synopsis and query letter and back-cover copy. It was my guiding light in interviews and publicity for the book, in talking about it with readers, in answering that dreaded question, “So, what’s your book about?”
Your message is the fulcrum around which the story revolves, and knowing it grounds you in the story over and over again, from drafting to revising to publishing and marketing it. Once you know it–clearly and specifically and rock-solid in your soul–then just like me in my podcast interviews, you can relax and enjoy the process of sharing this message that matters so much to you, trusting that it will serve as a guide rope to keep you from getting lost in the byzantine corridors of your story.
You’re telling your story—in each manuscript, and often over and over in every manuscript. So many of us return to similar themes, ideas, and messaging in all our stories, in my case revolving around family and forgiveness.
What is that central message that motivated you to want to share this story with others?
Why are you telling it?
Who are you telling it for?
Many businesses create a “mission statement,” a concise, formal summary of their values, aims, and company purpose–the company’s raison d’etre.
Can you sum up your story’s “mission statement”? Can you sum up your mission statement as an author overall?
I sat down and did this for my editing business, FoxPrint Editorial, and it’s my lodestar for every single thing I do in the business: every author’s manuscript I work on, every webinar and course I create, every article I write, every interview I give: To help authors find the best version of their creative vision with resources and techniques for creating effective, impactful, compelling stories.
This is the most genuine, authentic thing about everything I do in my career, and anytime I get caught up in demon antics and chicanery, returning to this mission statement over and over grounds me, reminds me what drives me, what’s important, and puts my focus where it belongs so I can get back to the work.
That’s the “story” I’m telling–my purpose in doing everything I do in my career.
This article was spot on and exactly what I needed to read. I participated in many leadership councils in my previous career life in healthcare administration and creating mission statements were the guiding star of our practices. Why haven’t I thought about applying that to writing???
Ha! Honestly I never really thought about articulating it as such till recently. I often do it automatically with my fiction, but only lately have learned to do it consciously with my editing work to center myself. It’s so helpful to me, though. Glad the post was well timed for you.
Love this, Tiffany – made me think, and the ‘mission statement’ will help me as a road map while I write this book. The theme is forgiving yourself, the message is – learning how to hope.
I love that, Laura. Love thinking of it as a road map too–that’s exactly what it feels like to me, or at least like the button on my GPS that orients the map so that “up” is whatever direction I’m heading, anyway, so my brain can make sense of it. 😀
Absolutely superb advice and landed in my inbox at the right time. I love your emails, Tiffany. Don’t stop! I’ve spent the morning revisiting and sitting with my theme, story question, and message. You’re so right about knowing them soul-deep.
Thanks, Boo! It’s nice to hear when they’re landing for someone. Glad to hear this sparked some insights.