Your Brand = Your Core Story

February 9, 2012

There’s a lot of talk by professional writers (and agents and editors) about brand. Creating your brand and using that brand to sell your books, whether to agents, editors, or readers. Some people are uncomfortable with that idea, and while I’m not uncomfortable with the idea, I was struggling with applying the concept to myself and my writing.

Then, I read this post on recognizing your core story by Donna Alward. This is one of those blog posts that not only resonated with me, but has stuck with me weeks later. A post I’m sure I’ll go back to again and again.

Donna talks about your core story being part of the characters and themes you gravitate toward in your writing.

Let’s use an example that many romance readers will be familiar with. If you’ve read some Nora Roberts, you can pick up on a few common threads. Even though she’s written a gazillion books, when you pick up a Nora Roberts novel you usually know you’re going to get a strong, independent heroine. Even in Nora’s earlier category books, you’ll rarely find a woman constantly being rescued by the hero. If you read any of Nora’s series books, and even some of her stand alone titles (Birthright and The Villa came immediately to mind), the theme of family sticking together is huge.

Obviously at this point in the game Nora doesn’t even need a brand. She IS her brand, but you can still pick out pieces of what her core story is, even a zillion titles and many years since her first.

I got to thinking about core story when applied to my own writing. What types of characters do I like to write about? For me it’s usually an unpolished, bristly heroine and a laid back, affable hero. Where do I like to set my stories? Small towns. What are some typical themes? Redemption, finding yourself, finding a family or place to belong.

In November and December, I was working on a WIP that just wasn’t gelling. I wrote and rewrote the beginning chapters, but just couldn’t get into the story. I had a fleeting thought after reading Donna’s post that part of the problem was it didn’t fit into my core story. I kind of set that thought away. How could setting have that much affect on story? I decided that I just needed to write and started a new WIP, a WIP that fit into my “core story.”

You know one of the comments my CP made on the very first chapter of the new WIP? “I wonder if that was what went wrong with your last WIP—the big city. It’s not that you can’t write that location, rather your voice isn’t as loud and clear in that setting.” Which knocked me right back to those fleeting thoughts I’d had earlier but pushed away. I think it’s more than setting. It was also characters and even theme. None of that fit my core story, and so it wasn’t working. This new story fit, and so it DID work.

Sometimes writing is about finding your niche. I think you’ll find even in people who write across genres, that they still have some of the same core story in each of those books. It’s not about limiting yourself, it’s just about finding where your voice best shines– in stories that mean something to you, in characters you love, in ideas you believe in and want to share. When broken down that way, figuring out your “core story” or your “brand” isn’t quite as business-oriented or marketing-focused. For me, this was key. Even if you’re pre-published, thinking about your core story can be helpful, and I think a little less daunting than determining your “brand.”



2 Responses to “Your Brand = Your Core Story”

  1. Great post. I believe in your core story idea — we all have certain settings or characters that resonate to the point that it makes a great story even when we change the details. And changing them too much will sometimes take us too far from our core, and it doesn’t work. One of my favorite writers, John Steinbeck, often tried something new and seemed to get lost. Not everything can be “The Grapes of Wrath”, of course, but a couple of his books are so far from his heart as to be forgettable, and we’re talking about a Nobel Prize winner! On the other hand, my friends and I have often discussed the various “tropes” (their word) we have found in the works of certain writers. Especially nowadays, so many self-published books seem just variations on a theme — as if the young author’s enthusiasm hasn’t allowed them to stop and think about how to use their core story — they just keep firing out the same story with different names. In the old days, the editor of a big publishing house would have worked with them, pointing out this problem (unless they became so famous that, what the hell, people will buy it just for the name) but now we’re so on our own. I keep studying the ideas I come up with because I’d like to know what my core story is — what really matters to me and therefore I can make it come alive to my reader.

  2. nicolehelm Says:

    Exactly! I think some people also get caught up in trends that don’t match their core story, and that shows too. I think all stories have been told before, but we seek out stories for truth, not something we’ve never read or felt. So, as writers what we write has to matter and come from the heart so it’s truth.

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