The Nub of a Story

By: Aryanne Ferguson

Imagine, Reader, you’ve got a story outline: Dan goes on an epic cross-country bicycle tour, stopping along the way to build houses for flood victims. As he travels, Dan lives out several messy relationships. 100 miles from the ocean, he sprains his ankle and the doctors tell him he won’t be able to finish the journey. But through perseverance and unexpected help from his new friends, Dan does.The whole experience changes him forever.

I realize Dan wouldn’t make it very far on this particular bicycle, but I love flower petals (

Yeah, so what’s the point? What are you trying to say through telling me Dan’s story? What feeling or idea lies at the root of story, waiting to enthrall your readers? That essence is the nub of the story. The nub changes a travel documentary into a story about a traveler. It separates Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” from the Farmer’s Almanac. Yes, “The Grapes of Wrath” is about a poor family who travel to California during the Great Depression. Everyone who reads that novel knows it’s about so much more. The nub of that novel is what makes it the more, what makes it a novel.

Okay, Reader, so you know about the nub. Do you know what the nub of your story is? I used to confuse nub with theme. I’d say: my story is about travel and father/son relationships. I’d answer that way because Dan-the-bicycle-man calls his dad every weekend, and their tense phone conversations set the tone for Dan’s relationships with each person he meets. Actually, the nub of my story was that a son never stops seeking approval from his father, to the benefit and detriment of his relationships with other people. See the difference between the two?

Many times after I write the first draft of a story, I read over my work, and there’s something missing. It’s usually because I started writing with an idea or a scenario and wrote until I ran out of words. I don’t know the nub of the story – no clue. And that’s fine, Reader. I’m not saying you need to know the nub before you write anything. All I’m saying is, finding the nub of your story is necessary sooner or later. Good luck!


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