Today I welcome author Hannah Holt who’s sharing her process of finding the heart of her debut picture book THE DIAMOND & THE BOY. What could be more appropriate for this series based on a “mining” metaphor than a story of diamonds! Thank you, Hannah!
In one of my early drafts for The Diamond & The Boy, I used light as a theme. I congratulated myself for cleverly comparing the brightness of diamonds to inventor Tracy Hall’s brilliant intellect. After all, one of the most sought after qualities in a diamond is its ability to sparkle. What better metaphor for the man who could literally make diamonds?
I polished that draft to perfection and brought it to a writing conference critique with high hopes.
The editor critiquing the story wasn’t impressed. To her, it fell flat.
“Was Tracy Hall really interested in diamonds because they sparkled?” she asked.
“Um, no,” I had to admit.
“So, what really interested him about diamonds?”
Oh, no! I hadn’t identified the heart of the story. My story was all sparkle and no substance.
I scrapped that draft and wrote a list of Tracy’s core qualities. I tried writing the story from different points of view. Nothing seemed to work.
And then one day, it hit me. Lots of things sparkle, but over time they often fade or break. On the other hand, diamonds go through an intense trial of heat and pressure to gain enduring strength. What we see when we look at a diamond is the end result of a lot of work!
It’s easy to look up a famous scientist, like Tracy Hall, and just see success. Heck, just scanning Facebook or Instagram can make the world seem like one big shiny merry-go-round of perfection. But that’s just surface beauty.
Mining for the heart takes digging. I needed to know my character beyond his scientific articles, awards, and accomplishments. I needed to read his boyhood journals and personal histories. In these, I found his fascinations, frustrations, and failures.
That context made his ultimate shining success much more meaningful. It’s darkness that helps us better define the light, and resilience that draws out heart. Anyone can say they “love” someone or something, but perseverance through opposition reveals true devotion.
Tracy loved science. He loved it enough to take a beating at school for it. He loved it enough to lug heavy books home from the library for it. He loved it enough to pursue a project even when most of his co-workers thought he was crazy.
If you want to get to know a person or character better—you can’t gloss over the hard times. It’s the hardships or conflict that shapes the heart of a story.
Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.
I’ll be sharing more about THE DIAMOND & THE BOY in a few weeks, so stay tuned!