But you know what I can remember? The way the story made me feel.
I’m sure you can identify. We all have our ideas of what makes a good story: an intriguing plot, interesting characters, impressive world-building, brilliant writing. But none of those things matter if the story lacks some kind of theme to bring all of those elements together in one beautiful, cohesive story that makes us feel.
But how do you create a theme? Well, as S.M. Metzler explained in this brilliant post: your story probably already has one. You just need to coax it out. Here’s how:
2. Understand that your story will have more than one theme. I've never read or written a story that only had one theme. I'm not even sure if that's possible. So when all of the possible themes for your story come stampeding toward you, don't panic. Let them all in. Of course, you'll want to narrow them down a bit afterwards by choosing a few main themes, but feel free to let the little ones stay.
3. Pick one or two main themes. You are going to want to focus your energy on only one or two main themes. Trust me. Not only does narrowing it down keep your from going insane, but it really helps streamline the whole process of writing. The themes are the center of your story and you can build outwards from there. Main themes kind of work like those backpack leashes you see tired moms using on their kids: Rather than spending hours chasing after your novel and trying to get it to behave, you attach it it to the theme so that it can't ever get too far away from where you want it. How do you decide where you want it? Read on:
4. Write about what is important to you. Notice that I added "to you" at the end of that sentence. Don't you dare start writing about things that other people deem important. Write what you want to write. It doesn't matter if it's unpopular or overdone or weird or simple. If it's important to you, then run with it. A story can only mean something to readers if it first means something to the author. If you aren't sure what is important to you, here's a good rule of thumb:
5. Write about what scares you. Yep. This is not something that writers want to hear, but I'm saying it anyway. Being a writer means that you need to be somebody who is willing to put your thoughts and emotions on paper. And not the, "I don't like purple," or "Smiling's my favorite" thoughts. I'm talking about the thoughts that scare you. It doesn't necessarily have to be a bad kind of scared. It can be an excited scared or an on-the-brink-of-something-big scared. Or it can just be plain old scared. Whatever makes you feel something deeply: That's what you want to put on paper. This is something I discovered when I wrote Skies of Dripping Gold. The themes are hard ones. I didn't want to put them in there at first. I didn't want people to see that much of my thoughts: The faith struggles, the anger, the fear. But those are all part of me, so I decided to acknowledge that. And you know what? It's the best thing I've ever written. Why? Because it meant something to me. So if you have an idea that you've been holding back because you're afraid of it: Just let it out. If it scares you then you're doing something right.
6. Go deeper. So you have a theme. What is it? Let's use an example. You've decided your theme is going to be, "Dare to become your own person." Okay, that's good. But what's so important about individualism, anyway? Why bother? Consider why some characters would choose to blend in rather than stand out. Think about the consequences of becoming your own person: Can that pursuit turn into selfishness? Look at it from all points of view. Go until you're sure you've seen it all. Once you've reached that point, just keep going. Further up and further in.
7. Connect it to your character. Your main theme should connect to your character on a deep level. No, don't make the theme define your character. You don't want your character suddenly flipping out because he realizes that he's nothing more than a story prop:
Thankfully, characters and theme often grow up side by side. They want to be together and often find a way to join at the hip without you even trying. If that doesn't happen, then you'll want to go back and see what happened to prevent that natural story flow.8. Be cool. Despite what you may think, readers are not generally stupid. They can recognize themes fairly well. You don't always have to be winking and nudging, "Did you see that? Riiiight.....there! That's the theme! See. See? Did you see that?!" Themes are supposed to be underlying messages, not sermons in the form of dialogue or a character watching a swiftly flowing river and reflecting on how time waits for nobody. Can we stop with that already? Please?
Remember, your story probably already has a theme. If you have thoughts and emotions, chances are those seeped into your story, perhaps without you knowing it. All you have to do is uncover it and nurture it a bit. That's both insanely easy and frighteningly difficult. But you can do it. I know you can. So go put together a story that matters. Make your readers feel something. Make sure they remember you long after they finished reading your work.
What theme does your story have? How do you like to handle it? Perhaps you're still working on discovering what your theme is. Let me know what's going on in the comment section below!
The Importance of Asking Why: 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself as a Writer
Challenging Writers to Create Stories with Meaning
Be a Writer, Not an Author
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