31 Days of NaNoPrepMo: Day 3


31-Days-of-NaNoPrepMo-by-Katrina-OstranderDay 3: What themes will guide your story?

Story and setting. The theme is what your story is fundamentally about.

“[S]tories are our metaphors for life, our blueprints for living, and theme in particular is the specific truth about the human experience the writer wishes to convey to an audience. It’s the message, the moral, the meaning of your story, the reason for its existence besides making money. Theme is therefore what makes your story universal, and thus emotionally significant.”

Iglesias, Karl (2011-03-28). Writing for Emotional Impact. WingSpan Press. Kindle Edition.

Theme is a huge part of prose, but it’s complex because it’s a macro-level element that is built over millions of micro-level elements. Your theme will tell you what to focus on in a scene, what words to use, and what ultimately happens. Take the same premise or plot, apply different themes, and you’ll end up with an entirely different novel. For example, is your story about the relationship between two characters, the heart-pounding adrenaline of a thriller, or how society deals with new technology? Your theme will tell you what to focus on in a scene, what words to use, and what ultimately happens.

Ask yourself, what life-truths are you looking to convey? If you’re not sure what you want to say, look at your own life. What questions do you struggle with? What does your search for meaning look like?

Action Plan: Come up with a list of big-picture questions your book might pose to the reader. Things like, “are humans fundamentally good or bad?” or “is love enough to sustain a relationship?” or “how much of my life should I live for me and how much should I devote to helping others?” After you’ve exhausted your brain of questions, select the three that resonate most to you or seem like they’re the most relevant to your premise. These are your themes. Now come up with two or three answers to each question. These are the types of things you’ll want to subtly showcase later in your novel—the ways that the theme will manifest in the prose.

Additional reading: “25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme” from Terrible Minds, “Jupiter Ascending: The Matrix Regendered” from Shattersnipe, “Want a Powerful Theme for Your Novel? Play Devil’s Advocate!” from Helping Writers Become Authors

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