On Writing

How To Find the Heart of a Story

If you’ve read my blog posts: Anatomy of an Article, Parts 1 and 2, you’ll know I’m a great one for note-taking.  Take a minute and read those two posts, then come back and read this .

I recently traveled to Aztec Ruins in northern New Mexico, which was once occupied by what we called Anasazi; today the term “ancestral Puebloans” is considered more appropriate. While there I took notes about the place including:

  • place with many houses
  • wetlands
  • navel of the earth
  • Chaco
  • migrations
  • AD 1100
  • 3 miles from stones
  • 50 miles from timber
  • butterfly dance
  • 5640 ft elevation

While my notes are probably gibberish to you, for me they’re the sign posts to the core of the story, regardless of whether I’m writing an essay or a scene in a novel. The list takes me to an ancient place where modern-day Hopi believe their ancestors still abide; a place that was just one of many on a great migration to the gems of the Southwest:  Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.

But a list is only a list. The harder part, for me, is to ask myself “What do I think about this? What makes this special to me?” Once I dig down into my own beliefs and thoughts, I begin understanding where to find the story. In this case, my story was why did the Hopi ancestors take the time to build the “many houses”, only to leave a short time later?

I’ve read stories about drought and heard tales of the great migration . . . but my own imagination wonders if there’s another – more hidden – reason behind the coming and the going. That’s the tale I’m looking to tell.

My invitation to you:  Pick a topic and make a list, then drill down and see what’s waiting. Let me know – I can’t wait to hear what you found.

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