Mining for Heart: “Finding the Heart in Hardship” by Hannah Holt

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!

HannahHolt_smallIn 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.

DiamondMan Final coverMining 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!

7 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Finding the Heart in Hardship” by Hannah Holt

  1. Hannah – I’ve enjoyed following your blog posts for The Diamond & The Boy and learned something new from each and every one. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! This book is on my “must have” list! Interesting truth about how you found the heart of the story, Hannah. Sometimes we get all wrapped up in being clever, when what really need to be is “revealing,” exposing the heart behind the story. Note to self: remember this! Thanks, Hannah!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for a glimpse into your process of developing this book. I’m working on a pb biography right now and these are exactly some of the questions I’m grappling with, how to find the heart, the defining moments that will tell his story while remaining compelling to children. Really fascinating to read of how your story evolved. Seems like such a fascinating book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel your pain! That’s the reason I started the series of guys posts. It’s something that is tough and different for every manuscript. Click on the Mining for Heart category – all the posts offer something a little different with this idea of finding heart. Good luck!


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