Saturday, January 15, 2011

Know Thy Hub

While I've been reading Mr. Ray's book on writing, I realized why he is so object-obsessed. He encourages writers to make noun lists and use them to spark ideas because he uses objects as story hubs, or that thing around which everything else in the story revolves. Once you know what a writer's favorite or most frequently used hub is, you can begin picking them out (for Ray Bradbury, the playroom, the carnival, the tattoo, the planet Mars and the book have all served as hubs.)

The object as hub is an effective device: Guy de Maupassant likely used a beautiful diamond necklace to write one of the most miserably ironic short stories of all time; Stephen King used a '58 Plymouth Fury named Christine for a novel that made most of us give our cars an uneasy look or two (two more of his vehicle-as-hub works are From a Buick 8 and Trucks.)

My story hubs are almost always characters (the faceless man, the girl-knight, the golden assassin) or character-based concepts (the doctor who can never get sick or die.) This is probably because I find people more fascinating than objects, settings, events, etc. I've used one character as the hub for a ten-book series, and seven characters as the hub for a single novel. Even in my one dog story, Familiar, the shepherd who serves as the hub used to be a person and still retains most of his human qualities.

Some writers may argue that they never use a hub, and that's a possibility, although I think in those cases the hub may be tucked away in the subconscious. The process of discovering the story as they write it may be more important than knowing the hub up front. Organic writers who just sit down and let it flow might not want to name their hub is because it could kill their momentum. Hubs are not always great things, either; they can repeat on you, and if you're not careful, they can take over your work. This may be why those writers reuse the same hub for their books over and over ad nauseum end up becoming cookie-cutter novelists; they can't escape that one hub that sinks its claws into their brains.

Knowing your hub isn't a requirement of writing, but I think it helps to know what you were planning to write around whenever you get stuck. At times when I falter, stumble or otherwise get mired down in a story, I usually end up thinking about the hub character and asking myself questions as to how my problem relates to them and their situation. Everyone and everything in the story serves the hub, and if it doesn't, I've gotten off-track and wandered away from my story, usually with another character who distracts me (nine times out of ten, that's always the case.)

If you're not sure how to determine what your hub is, think about what inspired you to write the story, or make a list of those elements that are most important to you and/or that you spend the most time developing. If knowing doesn't squash your enthusiasm, having a good grasp of what your hub is gives you some advantages, especially when you write up your story premise for a query or a synopsis for a submission package.

So what are some of your favorite hubs to use for stories? Does knowing your hub help you write a better story, or do you prefer to discover it along the way? Let us know in comments.

19 comments:

  1. Because I write a series featuring a Homeland Security expert on biological and chemical terrorism, it makes sense that my hubs are actually biological or chemical weapons. In The Devil's Pitchfork it was a genetically engineered virus. In The Serpent's Kiss it was sarin gas. In The Fallen it's less clear, the hub is more of a situation: a "Die Hard' type situation where the main character, Derek Stillwater, is inside undercover at the resort where the G8 Summit is being held when a group of terrorists take it over. So mine at the moment tend to be a specific plot point or situation. Which is interesting, now that you've made me think about it, because I'm working on a biotech thriller and I would say the hubs are both--the situation which involves a top secret enclosed military facility in Antarctica and a biological substance (not necessarily a weapon).

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  2. This was a great post. I've used Billie Holiday's song "I'll Be Seeing You" as a hub.

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  3. It sounds like another word for theme.

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  4. This post resonated with me as well. I hadn't thought in terms of hubs but I can see how useful it is for revising or moving plot forward. Right now I'm using a character flaw as a hub and sure enough, the plot fell apart when I forgot the hub. Glad I caught it in time!

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  5. I think I get the idea of a hub you're talking about. If that's the case...mine is faeries/related mythology. Every, and I mean every book I have written so far has something to do with them. The time period, the characters, everything else can change, but there's always a hint of something under that vast umbrella.

    Regardless, this was really interesting to think about, now I'm going to be wondering over it all day. :)

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  6. I don't really know what the hub is for most of what I write, but after reading this, I feel like knowing might help me write better. I lose my focus sometimes, and I think knowing my hub would help me find it again. The only one I can actually remember using was silence interrupted by clicking stiletto heels.

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  7. I've always tended to use mythic ideas or paths or stories as hubs. Everything from biblical stories (Noah's Ark, for instance) to Ovid to elements of the unknown (ghosts, etc.).

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  8. I'm not sure I understand this hub concept. It's the first time ever I hear about this... mind to share any link that explains it further? ^^;

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  9. When I first started writing, I thought of making the setting for all of my stories--romances, mysteries, paranormals--in one small town, situated in the inconspicuous hills of southern Ohio. I liked the idea that events could be occurring in some little backwater place that everyone could relate to, or that might end up affecting the whole world.
    I didn't think of it as a hub, and didn't stick with one place, but the small town/isolated setting has a prominent place in my work.
    Quite right.

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  10. Didie wrote: I'm not sure I understand this hub concept. It's the first time ever I hear about this... mind to share any link that explains it further? ^^;

    It's my concept, Didie, so sorry, far as I know I'm the only link. I taught some online workshops about ten years ago on series writing where I first mentioned hub as a story concept, but the site where I taught no longer maintains archives of the really old stuff.

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  11. Lynne Connolly wrote: It sounds like another word for theme.

    I think of theme as being more related to the main conflict (which I guess can serve as a hub if you're a conflict-driven writer.)

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  12. I'm starting to love noun lists. Their a recent thing with me.
    I'm not sure of if I've found my hubs yet (although I'm interested in houses, communities and travel), but they help me find what I call texture.
    I'm such a focused on dialogue writer, that I find in re-reading that the world my characters live in is kind of. . . bland. Noun lists give them things to react to and things to think about other than each other and the immediate plot problems.

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  13. My hubs are ideas and situations.
    A situation hub for a story idea I jotted down one of my index cards (pulled at random from my index card filing cabinet - yes, I have one of those) idea would be "First person story of a girl who becomes possessed by the former owner of a hot dog cart" (I never said they were GREAT situations, just situations - the tentative title was "How I Became Bubbles").
    An idea that serves as a hub for another unwritten story idea (taken from the same cabinet) is "What could happen if someone had AI software that played poker for you 24/7 and earned money while that someone went off and did their own thing?"
    Characters are born out of those types of hubs, but stores starts with those two things for me.

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  14. Mothers. And it's something I just realized. I'm not sure how this is going to help me plotting, but I'm intrigued by the information.

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  15. I think in my case my hub is my themes, of which I have a few that I address from many angles. However, in reading your post, it made me realize just how much being brought up on King Arthur and the code of chivalry has influenced my writing. In some ways that is my hub because my common themes are usually looking at how people fail to live up to chivalry (okay, my version of it) and what they have to do to get back there.

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  16. Thanks for another writing process post. My favourites. It's thought provoking and strikes a chord. My story writing hasn't settled down to a consistent/stable enough state yet to identify hubs. It doesn't help that I'm probably a pantser (which has its drawbacks) and the ideas actually come while I'm in the process of writing. I've noticed in the few stories I've done that wrote themselves. They all started from a scene or image that grabbed me and then the rest of the story flowered from there. I guess my hub could be a compelling scene/image which is always character-centred, i.e., there's always someone in the middle of the scene being or doing or having something happen to them.

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  17. Just when I think I'm beginning to understand all this hub stuff, I'm thrown for a loop, but I have enjoyed all the comments. Its a deep thought, I shall continue to ponder... Its a bit like watching the big hand on a clock move.

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  18. My novels tend to spring from what-if style situations and revolve around a relationship more than anything else. How do hubs relate to theme, I wonder?

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  19. My hub is a MacGuffin. And you know what, all my current problem projects are totally lacking one. Aha!

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