Posted in Theme

Digging Deep

How often have you read a book with great mean hidden deep within its story? I truly believe anyone can find meaning in just about anything they read. We don’t always look for it though. Why? Because we are so engrossed with what is going on in the story that we aren’t focused on what we can learn from it. In these instances I think anything learned goes straight to our unconscious mind. Now, I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or anything, but to me it’s only common sense.

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As an author, I want my readers to gain meaning from what I write. As I mentioned above, not everyone will on the surface. This doesn’t mean we don’t create meaning in our stories. After all, the stories we write have to have some kind of meaning to them in order for there to be a story. Actually, we call it Theme. Finding a theme to center your story around can be daunting at times. Seriously, you can be sitting there in front of your computer wondering what theme to use. In the meantime your story is dying to be written.

The solution is simple. Just start writing your story. The theme will develop itself or will unfold in your mind, and you will have an “A-ha!” moment. This is how I write. I know that sounds backwards, but it works for me. Once you have your theme (a meaning your story centers around), put it down on paper. Yes, literally, write it down. Then go into more detail about it. For example, how can you develop your characters around your chosen theme? In which direction can you take your story now that you have your theme? Will your settings connect to it in any way? What about dialogue? How can you use your theme to increase tension?

Continue to ask yourself these questions. Then answer each of them. Again, do this on paper, not your computer. The act of writing helps it to stick in your brain better. At least it does for me. When you feel you’ve developed your theme enough, go back to your story and continue writing. All the while, you will be using what you wrote down about your theme in various parts of your story.

When I was half way finished with my second book, I realized I didn’t have a theme. As a result, it was becoming increasingly difficult to continue with the story. Then it dawned on me what the problem was. Lack of a theme. It didn’t take me long to figure out what it should be because I knew the direction I wanted my story to go. Plus I knew my main character well. All I had to do was go back and look at his character sketch. The answer was right there. It smacked me in the face, so to speak. Without that theme, the story fell flat.

Once I found it though, I had to go back to the beginning of what I had already written and insert story elements that developed that theme. It wasn’t hard to do. It was just time consuming. But I loved every minute.

Posted in Theme

Theme: Where to Find It

To start with, theme is a lesson or idea the story teaches and is carried throughout the story. But where do we find a theme to center our stories around? We can Google a list of possible themes and go from there. After all, sometimes our mind goes blank right at that moment you want to think of something. Google helps boost our minds. Of course, there are other search engines, so the choice is yours which one you use.

Another possibility is yourself. You’re probably going, huh? That’s right. Your own experiences can shed light on various themes you can center your story around. In your lifetime what have you learned? How did you learn it? Did you have to learn how to get along with someone you didn’t like? Did you have to learn how to give more? Did you have to learn to be patient? Maybe you had to learn to take risks. The list goes on and on. Or maybe you know of someone who had a learning experience.

Does this all mean your story has to be directly related to your learning experience? No, absolutely not. You aren’t creating nonfiction. You are wanting to create fiction. All I am saying is to use your learning experience (or someone else’s) and come up with a fictional story that centers around the theme (or what you learned) from your own life.

There are times, though, when all you have to do is start writing a story and the theme will present itself as the story unfolds. Yes, there are some writers who write this way. I am one of them. I don’t like to restrict myself, and I find it more freeing to just start writing. How about you?

Posted in Writing

Theme: That Sticky Thing Some Have Issues With

How do you insert a theme into your story? Well, there are different ways of doing this. Just so you know, how this is done differs from writer to writer. After all, we are all different minded individuals. I tend to do things a little backwards. At least in my mind I do. To start with, theme is a lesson or idea the story teaches and is carried throughout the story. A story can have more than one, so don’t think you can’t go beyond that.

1. Good vs. evil
2. Power of corruption
3. Love
4. Free will
5. Tragedy

Of course, there are many many more. But, how do you incorporated it into your story? I have come to the knowledge over the years that it has much to do with how you write. I am a panster. In other words, I don’t plan. I make the story up as I go along. I know in advance the type of theme I am wanting to work with, so I set out writing my story. As I am writing, the theme is working in the background, a.k.a simmering in my subconscious. It will come to the surface as the story unfolds.

In my latest book The Cross’s Key, when I finished it, I started at the beginning of the book and looked for anything that pertained to the story’s theme and made notations of it. When that was finished, I went back to each notation and decided whether or not the theme was developed enough. If it wasn’t, what did I need to insert in order to develop it more. Was there anything that didn’t make any sense that needed clarification? Did the theme flow with the rest of the story, or was there something out of place that might derail the reader? Trust me, it’s your story, so you will know the answers to these questions at the moment you’re going through it.

If you are a planner and plan your story out before you set to writing that first chapter, then you are going to outline your chosen theme during the planning process. If this is the way you work, what I would do is come up with a theme first. Next, I would write down in a couple of sentences what my book is about (or a general idea anyway). Then go back to your theme and brainstorm various ways that theme could be incorporated into your story.

Whatever way you choose, please note, theme is an integral part of your story. Yes, I know there are many elements to a story that are important, but theme will pull at the reader’s mind and work toward making connections in ways only they will know.

Posted in Writing

Writing Fun

Photo by George Milton on

When I was in high school, I went to the Rueben Daniels Center of the Arts and Sciences. In my dance class we learned about theme and variation. What we had to do was choreograph a dance routine that was about one minute in length. Once we had our routine down, we had to choreograph two more dance routines based on the first one. More precisely, they had to be variations of the first by modifying it somehow without changing it completely. With writing this can also be done. Create a scene. Then, create two more scenes by varying the first scene. But, don’t vary things too drastically. It needs to be clear that your varied scenes are essentially the first scene but with slight differences.

What does this do? It works at developing creativity. It’s like a brain workout except its “bench pressing” words instead. So…have fun with it and think outside the box.

Posted in Writing

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

I like to think of writing a novel much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces and there is so much to think about. Placement of each piece/part is key if it’s going to fit with the rest of the ‘picture’. One wrong placement can make the rest of the story appear out of place. So, where do you start? Better yet, what do you start with? That really is up to you. As long as all the pieces fit together and the ‘picture’ at the end fits together, how you get there doesn’t matter. After all, we’re all different.

Still, there is so much to think about. Please see the list below.

  • Characterization
  • Setting
  • Story Structure
  • Scene structure
  • Theme
  • Voice
  • Point of View

Generally speaking, these are the biggest elements that go into the creation of a novel. It’s quite a bit to keep track of while you’re writing. For the first time author writing their first book it can be daunting. One might ask, “How do you work with all of them as you’re writing?” It’s simple. You don’t. Yup, I said it. You don’t. What you do instead is this:

  • Write the first draft to get your story down. Start from the beginning and work toward the end. Start from the middle and work your way to the end then write the beginning. Write the end then the beginning and then the end. Whichever way you go about getting that first draft done is up to you. Just get that done first without worrying about the particulars listed above. Put if away for a few weeks when you finish the first draft. This will keep your mind fresh when you go back to write draft two.
  • In draft two look at the story structure. Make sure make sure each Act has the appropriate information in it (Please see my post from July 17, 2020 entitled Story Structure in Three Acts). Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a wealth of information. I highly recommend it.
  • Go through each scene. Is the structure of each what it should be? There are two types: 1. Action 2. Reaction (Please stay tuned for a later post on this topic).
  • Here is where I would go through and look at the character development of your Main Character. There must be character growth from the beginning to the end. Here is where their character flaw comes into play. Remember, by the end of the book they will overcome their flaw. How they do that is part of their growth.
  • Setting is huge. Readers need to get a good idea/picture of where your story takes place, what it looks like, and how it’s connected.
  • Point of View is a huge one. You don’t want to confuse your readers by accidentally moving from first to third person or vice versa. So, choose a point of view and stick with it. Go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout.
  • Voice encompasses more than one thing. It incudes diction, detail, imagery (through description or use of simile or metaphor), dialogue, tone, and syntax (the way words are arranged). As you read through your manuscript looking for these elements as it relates to voice, you might find you need to add something here or there or change the way a character said something.
  • Theme goes along with the main message you are trying to convey to your reader. What is it you want them to learn by the end of the book? Do you accomplish this?
  • PLOT HOLES. This is huge. After all is said and done, please read through your whole manuscript and look for those pesky inconsistencies. Readers will find them and you don’t want them to. Keep a style sheet where you keep track of details you need to remember throughout your story. Your 31 year old MC can NOT be 42 in the last half of the book (unless they’ve been lied to and that’s part of the story). Her/his birthday you had mentioned on page 20 as being January 8, 1972 can’t be mentioned later on page 245 as being March 23, 1974. I just won’t work.
  • The editing is the very last thing that’s done. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. This comes last before publishing.

As you can tell, these tasks are not done in one swoop. They are done one at a time (generally). Hey, if you are able to focus on one or more at once that’s fine too. The point is take your time. Focus, do not rush. The story won’t grow legs and walk away. It’s yours, so take your time and make it the best YOU you can make it. By doing this, all of the pieces will fit together, so that when someone else looks at it (reads it), they will be looking at something that will stay with them and make them come back for more.