The first time I heard about core story, it was at RWA 15 in New York. I got to hear about it from my romance writer hero, Jayne Ann Krentz. (She’s pretty much the author and the person I want to be when I grow up, but we can fangirl about it another time, because Robin and Alexis will probably shank me if I don’t put a blog up soon.)
If you follow Jayne at all, you know she has a boatload of pen names. Seven in total, although three are currently active. I found her through Amanda Quick, firmly solidifying my love of historical romance. She pioneered the futuristic/paranormal genre as Jayne Castle, and she freaking kills it under her own name writing contemporary suspense.
Hearing about core story from Jayne Ann Krentz was amazing because…homegirl knows. When you write that many genres under that many names, you find out who you are as a writer. You find out what the heart of the story you’re trying to tell is. I can’t remember what she said her core story was—she said it, I just can’t remember—and I’m not willing to tell you what I think it is. But I know what mine is, so I’ll tell you about that.
My core story is “funny, feminist romance featuring outsiders.” Nothing too flashy. But that’s what I write. Even if the story is dark (and it probably will be), I will make you laugh. The woman will always be the center of my story. The plot will be driven by her catalysts. She will be the solver of her problems. And, because they make sense to me…I write people on the fringe. People who are often outside looking in, or feel like they are. I write people who are lonely. No matter what historical time period or even different genre I take my stories too, that will still apply.
So why is that important? Is it important? HELL YES it is. Knowing your core story lets you experiment without being afraid of losing your audience. Having a core story lets your audience experiment with you, without worrying you’re going to take them somewhere they don’t want to go. And TRUST ME, knowing your core story makes figuring out how to market yourself a hell of a lot easier. Website design, tweet style, everything. All of that business side stuff that is confusing and hateful—all easier when you know your core story.
You might not know it yet, and that’s ok. But start looking for it. In her and Susan Philips workshop, Jayne Krentz said she didn’t know her core story until Historical had fallen apart and her publisher asked her to pivot to a new genre. Finding your core story in the middle of your career, if you don’t already know, is hard. It can be a massive crisis of confidence moment. And finding it early can put you way ahead of the game.