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.