Other Quick Ways To Develop Your Theme in Your Novel

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Other Quick Ways To Develop Your Theme in Your Novel
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


So, over here on WRITE BETTER NOW, we’ve had a three-post series about how to develop your theme and what the hell even in a theme and blah, blah, blah.

This last post is really just focusing quickly on how to develop your theme.

Step One:

Think what the hell kind of insight you want your readers to get. Can you show them a new way to think or see or feel about life?

Step Two:

Write that as a statement with a noun and verb. I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT MIGHT DOES NOT MAKE RIGHT.

Step Three:

Make sure that you aren’t shoving that concept down your reader’s throat like a bad over-moralizing superhero movie, right?

Step Four:

Wonder how to do that. Realize that it’s about being subtle, not being a cringy cliché. But it’s also about your character actually struggling and not believing that concept.

Step Five:

Think about those subplots to help show what that character needs to figure out.

Practical Creative Writing says it well:

A story without a theme is little more than a list of events.”

Wow, right? They even call the theme the pulse of your story.

MasterClass suggests:

First look for something universal that will resonate for people outside our own psychographics.

Then try to think of something that will keep your reader thinking.

All of that is very esoteric and abstract.

I think you should think about your plot and what your character needs to learn. Your story is about a firefighter with a dead eccentric dad who was raised by an uncle who believed magic and weirdness should be avoided at all costs. She’s up for a promotion at a fire department and doesn’t stand out. Something magical happens on a run and things spiral out of control. What is the theme here from just the bits I wrote out.

Theme has to be part of plot and character. It has to make sense.

But MasterClasses’s next suggestion we heartily agree with you want to make sure your theme is throughout the whole story, not just slammed in at the end.

They write:

“As you fill in the details of each act, make sure your main character encounters situations that highlight the theme. If you’re balancing multiple story lines, see if you can make your theme manifest in each of those narrative threads—ideally in a different way in each story line.”


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better.

What is Theme?

Write Better Now
Write Better Now
What is Theme?
/

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better.


What is theme?

This is the first in our three-week series about what theme is and how to find this abstract bugger and even develop it in your own stories. And to start things off, we have to define theme. Turns out there are a lot of different takes on this bad boy, but for today we’re going with LitCharts.

According to LitCharts,

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths about human experience that readers can apply to their own lives. For instance, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (about a family of tenant farmers who are displaced from their land in Oklahoma) is a book whose themes might be said to include the inhumanity of capitalism, as well as the vitality and necessity of family and friendship.

And you can have more than one theme in your story, but we’re just going to be focusing in on one right now.

The theme is something you have to develop in your story and it has a significant impact on your main character.

Your book will have a plot – the things that happen in the story.

Your book will have character development – how your character evolves or doesn’t in a story.

Your book will have a theme – the more abstract concepts that your story involves.

Themes can be broken into concepts and statements.

A concept would be:

Love

Grief

A statement would be:

Human love is imperfect.

Living with grief is permanent.

And your work as the author is to embody those themes in your character as they navigate the plot and world of the story.

Sara Letourneau is a poet who also writes for diyMFA and coaches. She has a great piece about developing themes in stories and a worksheet on her website. 

She advocates when developing a theme for your character’s story, you can do so in their big choice in act one of the story.

A pause for a refresher. Act One is the beginning of your book where you establish the character, setting, story problem, character goal’s, etc. And it is also the place where the character’s world begins to change. This usually happens in the inciting incident.

Because of the inciting incident, the character that you’ve developed has to make a big-time decision. Will they keep on with the same old, same old or will they make a change that gets them involved with the story, a choice that makes it so their life isn’t going to be the same old, same old at all?

When they make this choice, the story usually enters ACT TWO, the place where everything is different for the main character, a point of no return.

So, what is this choice?

According to Leternous, it has the following elements:

  • “It typically occurs around the 25% mark, and signals the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II.
  • It shows the protagonist becoming fully engaged in the external conflict.
  • It further establishes the protagonist’s story goal.
  • It raises the stakes and underscores why the story goal matters to the protagonist.”

She writes (and I love this),

“It’s easy to confuse the inciting incident and the Act I choice, since they occur so close together. However, while the inciting incident invites the protagonist into the main conflict, the Act I choice is her RSVP. It shows the protagonist committing to her involvement and taking the first step out of her comfort zone. In other words, it’s her internal response to an external change in her status quo. And like with the inciting incident, it has the ability to reflect a story’s themes.”

So, what does theme have to do with this?

The inciting incident is where your character’s desires are triggered or maybe it’s her fears. It pushes her towards the choice that becomes her story goal.

She uses the Hobbit as an example:

“J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit, meets the wizard Gandalf, who invites him on an upcoming quest. Bilbo initially refuses, claiming he’s not the adventurous type.”

But then things change a lot because there is that choice. And your main character has to pick the option that makes the story happen. They have to want it more than they want to stay in their safe, same-old, same-old life.

The theme comes into play because your character’s goals and desires, and fears are all involved in this choice. What thematic/abstract ideas relate to your character’s choice? That’s a big hunk of your theme.

For Bilbo that choice has to do with courage. He chooses adventure and exploring.

She has a GREAT worksheet if you want to check it out and the link is in our podcast notes at carriejonesbooks.blog.

https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/theme

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better.

Risking being bruised and misunderstood. Audre Lord and writing

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lord wrote that in a paper she delivered at Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel,” Chicago, Illinois, December 28, 1977. It was first published in Sinister Wisdom 6 (1978) and The Cancer Journals (Spinsters, Ink, San Francisco, 1980). It also appeared in Lord’s book, Sister Outsider (  Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1984 ).  


I wonder how often writers self-censor for fear of being ‘bruised or misunderstood.’ I’m thinking not just of books and thinking of how scary it is for me to read random reviews. Even though they are almost all great reviews, there’s still that wound that comes sometimes.

But I’m also thinking about how the best books resonate with an author’s truths. The best books have something underneath the surface and that something is what an author believes.

So, basically, this has also made me think about what is most important to me.


There’s so many things that are important to me, but I think one of them is what Lord calls “barriers to loving.” She calls racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia types of human blindness. Human blindness is the “inability to recognize the notion of difference as a dynamic human force, one which is enriching rather than threatening to the defined self.” **

I love that quote. I mean, I really, really love it. 

I’m sure she’d include classism in that mix as well. But how about the differences in political thought? In abstinence education? In forgiveness theories? There are so many kinds of differences. There are so many different belief systems, not just within our country or in the world, but just in our county, just in our town. I’m not sure if I’m always as upfront as I could be about what I believe, and it’s got to be fear that holds me back sometimes. 


What about you? 

What do you believe?

Do you write your truths? If you aren’t a writer, do you live your truths? Speak them? Or are you afraid?

** First published in The Black Scholar, vol. 9, no. 7 (1978) and later in Sister Outsider

WRITING NEWS

THE NETHERLANDS IS AWESOME

Steve Wedel and I wrote a super creepy book a few years back called After Obsession and it’s making a big freaking splash in the amazing Netherlands thanks to Dutch Venture Publishing and its leader Jen Minkman. 

Check out this spread in a Dutch magazine. I met a whole bunch of Dutch readers last Friday and let me tell you? They are the best. 

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp! 

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site. 

PATREON OF AWESOME

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps). 

Check it out here. 

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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