This is gonna be mostly old hat to most writers, I reckon, but every author goes through their own journey and such so this is new and revelatory to me, at the very least.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the core essence of story lately in light of a) always wanting to get better at my craft and b) having a novel make the agent rounds to some initial interest but not enough to seal a deal.
And that initial interest is a really good data point to have. I managed to move beyond the query stage with a good handful of agents but the manuscript didn’t connect enough for them to say “Yes, I must have this!” What that’s telling me is that I am far enough into my novel-writing ability to have a solid concept and my query was good enough to pique their interest but the work itself wasn’t bulletproof which is where I ultimately want my writing to be.
Turning that over, and working on my 30k word Little Fears novel, The Wolf Pact, has caused a couple thoughts to bubble to the surface.
Thought One: What’s the story about?
More a question that a thought but it’s the first question I need to answer before moving forward. It’s essential.
Now, when most folks ask “What the story about?” they mean (or at least get an answer pertaining to) the genre, details of the world and characters, and cool stuff that happens. But that’s all much lower level than I initially need to be.
For me, the answer to “What’s the story about?” is “This is a story about how [BLANK] learns [BLANK].”
Everything else is details.
In The Wolf Pact, Nate Torrance is a boy who discovers there’s a world of monsters that exists next to ours. Throughout his investigation, he makes friends with a girl named Jennifer Mills who has her own tie to monsters and, together, they uncover the truth about some wolf attacks in the area.
But, really, The Wolf Pact is a story about how Nate Torrance learns about friendship.” As his oldest friendship with his neighbor starts to fall apart, he builds a new friendship with Jennifer. That’s the essence of the story.
Also, that second blank is the story’s theme. “Friendship” is the theme of The Wolf Pact.
Thought Two: What about the protagonist is being challenged?
Okay, so this thought is another question. And it stems from the first.
If this is a story about how Nate Torrance learns about friendship, what about Nate is being challenged that leads to an epiphany? In The Wolf Pact, Nate holds firm that friendships are fixed. They don’t change. They certainly don’t end. It’s one of his principles. That his neighbor, who is older than Nate, is moving on forces Nate to try to reclaim that friendship. Jennifer wants to be friends with Nate but the boy is resistant. Not due to a flaw in Jennifer but a flaw in himself.
Thought Three: How is the theme supported?
Okay, so now we’re onto question three which calls back to question one. How am I supporting the theme? Perhaps a better term is “exploring.”
I’m exploring the theme of friendship by presenting different sides of it: the neighbor is moving on from friendship. Jennifer is trying to build a new friendship with Nate. Nate is trying to learn how friendship works. The antagonists also address this theme of friendship which is tied into the book’s name. The titular wolf pact is a core expression of friendship and how beholden one is to a promise made in youth.
Thought Four: How does the protagonist change?
Hrm. So all these thoughts are questions. Good to know.
Okay, I know the story is about how Nate learns about friendship. I know his idea that friendships don’t change is what will be challenged throughout the story. And I know I’ll explore the theme of “friendship” by showing different perspectives and stages of it. But what will ultimately change about how Nate views friendship? Once he has all this information and has seen the theme of friendship from multiple viewpoints, what does he do about it?
I won’t spoil that in this post (you’ll have to read the book to find out) but the basic options are: he accepts that friendships change or he rejects that friendships change. There are additional levels of complexity to this of course but those are the top levels I’m concerning myself with.
With those in mind, I was finally able to approach The Wolf Pact armed with the information I needed to start. Next came outlining, developing subplots (which go through their own version of this but with a mind of supporting the established theme), and then the actual writing.
I’ll be very interested to see how this all comes together in the finished project and how everyone reacts to it. Either way, these kinds of revelations help make my writing stronger which is my ultimate goal. Is it bulletproof yet? No. But it’s another level of armor and that’s good enough for now.