Tuesday, April 23, 2013

3 Tips for Developing a Theme in Your Book

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.

So, theme. We've talked a little bit about theme before, and we covered it in the Go Teen Writers book too. But I was looking through some old notes of mine, and I found some ideas that got me excited. I thought you might like to see them as well.

1. Life Lessons
When you're working on your characters and your plot, ask yourself what your character learns about life in the course of the story. If he learns a million things, it might be that your story is a little too theme heavy. Keep it simple. How? Try interviewing your character now that he's lived through the adventure. Ask him, "Why did you have to go through that? Why did you take that journey? Why did you allow that to happen to you? What did you learn? What he says might surprise you.

2. Flaws and Questions
No one's perfect. And your characters shouldn't be either. Give your main character a struggle, a flaw, or some question about life that he's hung up on. And through the course of the story, let him find an answer to that question or a way to deal with that one issue or flaw. Be careful, though. Simple, spoon-fed answers won't resonate with your readers. But a character who's looking for answers about life or trying to figure out a way to do life better is someone most everyone can relate to.

3. Plant it Early
Whatever it is that you want your character to learn or how you want him to change, have him say the opposite early on in the book. Let him declare to a friend that he will NEVER do such and such. And by the end of the book, oh, yes he will. This is a great way to work in a theme, or, during edits, to strengthen your theme. Here are some examples:

Dorothy starts out singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," wishing there was a wonderful place to life where there would never be any troubles. But at the end of the book she's saying the opposite, "There's no place like home."

In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey wants to shake the dust of this crummy old town off his feet, and he wants to see the world! But in the end, despite never having left Bedford Falls, he learns that he really does have a wonderful life.

In About a Boy, Will says that his life is like a TV show. He is the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show isn't an ensemble drama. Guests come and go, but he is the regular. It comes down to him and him alone. Yet, at the end of the movie he learns that no man is an island.

How about you? Can you pinpoint growth in your character's journey? Do you see a major change? Can you plant an opposite declaration early on?




17 comments:

  1. Ohhhhh so helpful. These past few posts have been just right for where I am with my story. Thank you!

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  2. About a boy is funny! Remember the dead duck day? Hahaha

    I'm working on deepening my MC. Some of her struggles are not liking change and when change happens she wants to control everything.

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    1. I'm still learning how to show that and then give her a journey to learn from it,

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    2. You'll figure it out, Tonya! Good job. :-)

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  3. I absolutely love this! A story with a great life lesson is one I find resonates ages after I've put the book down.
    I'm worried about my story being a little theme heavy though. The main character learns a few things along the way. That's something I'm definitely going to have to think about.

    Tell the World

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    1. You have a cool think linking to your blog and I thought it was a new thing where we could literally click it and tell the world. :

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. *thing. And the internet cut off the tongue. *:P

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    4. I agree, FunTo. But, yeah, think about those lessons and make sure they feel natural. The story is key. Entertaining your audience has to come first. You can still do that with a heavy story, but you need lots of light moments too. Think about A Walk to Remember. It's a great book. Sometimes the heavier the subject matter, then lighter the need for a theme since it's already there in the plot.

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  4. I love themes. Themes are delicious, beautiful, tricky monsters to wrestle with, but I love themes. (I'm also having problems with overusing adjectives, but that's far from the point.)

    I swore to myself, when I started this whole Writing Thing, that I would avoid the Deep Themes. You know, "True Love" and "Good vs Evil" and all that stuff. I like the subtler themes. I tend to stay near redemption, no capital 'R.' So when I started planning this latest project (my first series--aah!), I was a little shocked when I realized my theme had something to do with good and evil and the human heart and the sky and the way the line between right and wrong is so blurry but definitely there. I've finally managed to condense it into a couple of words ("The very nature of light is to overcome darkness"), but it still kind of freaks me out, the concept of taking on something so Huge. At the same time, I know that this is a lesson my main characters need to learn, and I can't wait to teach it to them.

    Woah. Got more musing than I meant to, there.

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    1. That sounds cool, Diana. It's a good theme. Keep at it!

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  5. I never can pick out themes in books I read or write. I think I'm overthinking it. In this book now I'm trying to stay away from true love, because I think that's overused, but friendship is definitely a thing. It's post-apocalyptic and my heroine, who is obsessed with survival and finding food and trusting no one, would do anything for her best friend. I'm still working this out, I think. Thanks for the post!

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    1. I think that trust/sacrifice is a great theme, Kaitlin.

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  6. I'm working on this. I think I've got theme potential, but I need to make my main character more polarizing in the beginning. I'm doing well with the "flaws and questions" part. This is really useful. Thanks for the post, Jill!
    Katia

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  7. Oh! Yay! Something I'm FINALLY good at!

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