D=Drive to the Heart of the Matter (Feb 5)

Spider-Man is more than a superpowers tale – at its heart is the story of a boy and the girl next door // Shutterstock

A good story maps then pursues authentic emotion. As the song goes, ya gotta have heart.

Let’s take film as an example. The movie Interstellar follows the connection between a father and daughter. The Blues Brothers sang and danced with rhythm and blues legends in an effort to earn redemption. Under the skintight costume Spider-Man is more than just a boy-gains-powers tale – it is the story of a boy and the girl next door.

A movie may be the best art form for our visual era – and it’s easy to see why. You follow a character through ups and down and you learn about the person (upcoming lesson McKEE will look at this some more). If a movie is written and filmed in a way that makes sense, you as an audience member can’t help but care.

Words and images turn into scenes. These scenes in sequence give the audience a story. Without heart, though, none of these stories would connect. The authentic emotion is what turns a simple series of events into something more. After all, the movie Titanic wasn’t particularly new – one critic called it “Romeo & Juliet on a boat.” The magnificent scenes after the mighty boat hit the iceberg only mean something because of the improbable love between the two main characters, Jack and Rose. That’s what gives the movie its heart.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our world. Why should a piece of writing be anything different? As much as a cynic may not admit it, a story shows us what matters.

Step by step, what matters must be clear on a page. A research paper will review relevant research to show the heart of an experiment and hint at what could come next. A poem will stack images to get at the emotion of a single moment. Your audience is looking for, above all, heart. A person who hears a story may not know its heart at the beginning but should certainly feel it by the story’s end.

Everything you write has an authentic emotion under it. Once you figure out that emotion, the images and details to include fall in line.  Figure out a story’s heart and you figure out the story.  

LEARN: Watch this scene from Interstellar: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogd0ahj4cIE

USE: Write down two things, each in no more than 10 words: What is the heart of the matter for the father? And for the daughter?


Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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