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4 Ways to Bring Out Theme in Your Story

Theme is such an important element of story, regardless of medium. Even visual arts, such as paintings or sculture, tell a story and often center on some theme. Yet, you’ll find few blog posts or podcasts discussing what theme is in a story and how to showcase it.

I feel theme is so crucial to a great story that I chose it as one of the four corner pillars of novel construction. And while some novelists may argue that the genre they write in really doesn’t require themes (suspense/thriller, mystery, for example), for a deeper, richer story, themes are the ticket.

To get to the heart of the themes for your story, ask yourself questions:

  • Why I am passionate about this plot I’ve come up with?
  • What issues speak to my heart or upset me?
  • How can I have my characters embody these opinions or passions?
  • What kinds of conflicts in values, morals, beliefs, and ideas can my characters have that will enhance my premise?

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Your Premise Determines Your Characters

When I think about the many novels I’ve written, I realize I don’t always start with a plot idea. Sometimes a topic or theme intrigues me, or I’ll have an image of a character in the throes of a moral dilemma. I remember reading about how C. S. Lewis came up with his Narnia series. He had a picture in his mind of a faun carrying a parcel and an umbrella through a snowy wood. From there, the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe sprang into existence.

The novel I’m currently writing, a supernatural thriller called Lightning Man, also was sparked by a picture in my head. I saw a man at the top of a mountain, his arms outstretched in a messianic surrender to the heavens, willing lightning to strike him for the tenth time, intending to stop a terrorist by sacrificing his life as he grips the bad guy. From there I had to ask a lot of questions to find my story, and I encourage you to do the same with the ideas that excite you.

I wove a complex plot around that character and climactic moment I saw in my head (it’s taken me a couple of years, but it’s all in place now). But it all started with a picture of a nebulous character.

For my novel Someone to Blame, I started with  the word blame. You could call it a theme or topic. I wanted to explore the ways people blame themselves and others and the damage and hurt blame causes. From that germ of an idea, a plot developed—a story about a family who’ve suffered the loss of two sons and moved to a new town hoping to start over, only to get drawn into a heavy drama that mires the town in blame and subsequent danger. Continue Reading…

The Challenge of Creating Powerful Settings

Setting is so often overlooked or pushed to the background in fiction. But it is, perhaps, one of the most powerful elements of a story. If you aren’t thinking carefully about the settings in your story, I hope you’ll think again. Setting isn’t just where your overall story is set, it’s all those locations you set invidual scenes in.

We spend a lot of our time at work and home, and occasionally at those restaurants and coffee shops, but that is ordinary life. And while we want to show our characters in their ordinary lives (at least sometimes), readers don’t want “boring.” Continue Reading…

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