Setting Themes: #Preptober, Day 21

Today let’s talk about themes.

Themes are often used as the entry point into an idea about the kind of novel you want to write. Maybe you want to write about love or loss or forgiveness. Ambition, betrayal, coming of age – these are all themes. Writers usually pick one as the overarching idea that will guide their story (my ninja story is a coming of age tale, for instance).

The problem with this approach is that once you’ve figured out the big picture, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out how each scene actually fits into that bigger picture. It’s a bit backwards, like trying to cut puzzle pieces that will fit, instead of starting with the pieces ready-made and simply assembling them in the correct order.

Themes can sometimes trip writers up, because we start thinking about how Great and Serious our novels will be, addressing these Big Ideas… and then we totally forget that stories are ultimately about people.

So how do you make your themes fit with your characters, to help tell their story – instead of A Great And Important Story that no one connects with?

As the Kristen from the Well-Storied blog explains in How to Choose and Build a Powerful Theme for Your Story:

“A book’s theme is often derived from the emotional development of its characters or from the consequences those characters face as a result of their external actions.”

Having already talked a bit about our characters’ flaws, we can tap into our themes by thinking about what we can do to exploit those flaws in our plot.

For example, one of my characters might have the fatal flaw of arrogance. This means I can stick them in a scene where they think they know it all, but turn the tables on them to reveal that in fact they don’t know something important, and therefore are not as smart or bulletproof as they think they are. They get their comeuppance, and (hopefully) learn something.

In addition, this moves the plot forward!

So, don’t get too lost in your themes, but check out this list if you’re not quite sure what your book is about – or just want to browse some ideas for additional themes you can thread through your story.

Want to prep with me?

Tell us about your novel’s big themes, post about it on your blog, and be sure to use the hashtag #Preptober on social media so we can find each other.

Don’t forget to grab a free copy of my Preptober Prompts Printable, which you can print out for personal use.

See you tomorrow with a new prompt!

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