Mining for Heart: Kristin Gray on Connecting to Characters

Today Kristin Gray shares her process of finding the heart in her middle grade novel and its irresistible main character, Vilonia Beebe. 

HeadShot2KGThank you, Beth, for having me on your blog. I’m delighted to be here. I adore stories with heart. Heart is more than sappy emotions or a feeling. It is enthusiasm, passion, resolve, courage, nerve, and spirit. Heart also means core or center. As in the center of a city, the nucleus. I love that. And when I begin any new story I write “Find the heart” at the very top of the first page as a reminder to myself. In other words, I need to find my story’s core. The thing that gives it life.

Now, when I am reading, what often keeps me glued to a book, is character. Or character-driven plot. Plot is important of course, but when I flip those pages, I don’t know about you, but I tend to fall in love with characters. Characters who have . . . heart. Who have enthusiasm, passion, resolve, courage, nerve, and spirit. We know this by their dialogue, their actions, their reactions, their body language. By the way they interact with their world and how they respond to what life throws at them.

Vilonia doesn’t curse, but she does namedrop various dog breeds when she’s flustered. “Poodles!” “Dalmatians!” “Great Danes!”
She also runs to the yard to angry pitch a bucket of softballs when things aren’t going her way.
And when confronted with what really happened to Maximus Tropicana, the library goldfish, she might tell a lie under pressure. But you didn’t hear it from me.

IMG_1454 2As readers, we want the action, yes, but we also want the angst. We read to worry about our characters. We want to root for them to get what they want. We want them to succeed. But their journey can’t be easy. Or that’d be a really short, not very memorable book.

Every successful story, in my opinion, has a physical journey and an emotional (heart) one. Stories which do both well are my favorites. And when these two journeys intersect? Watch out, I will probably push this book on every person I meet.

So how did I do this with Vilonia? How did I find the heart? I gave her a physical want, a dog of her own. I gave her an emotional want, for her mother to get better. And then I found a way to link the two: Dogs can help people with depression. But in order to have a true story, there has to be conflict. So, I also put up a roadblock: Vilonia’s dad won’t let her get a dog until she can prove she’s responsible enough to care for one. Then nothing goes the way she intends. And if I’ve done my job, if I’ve written to the heart, my readers will want to say, “Poodles!” too.

You can visit Kristin’s website HERE

5 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: Kristin Gray on Connecting to Characters

  1. I enjoyed the interview with Kristin and learned some things I hadn’t thought about. I’m a sucker for determined and spunky characters filled with heart and compassion. Will check this out. Sounds like a great read for my great granddaughter. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this! I will definitely start writing or reminding myself at the start of each story to “find the heart.” Thank you for
    this awesome tip. And wishing you much success with Vilonia.


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