Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chaper 32: Theme

Good Wednesday!

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Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. We're done with Character Development, now we're moving on to Plot Development! Today's lesson is in Section THREE: Theme.

This chapter is too big to be one post, so I'll divide it up over a couple days!

There are many different ways to discover and develop the themes in your novel. Themes can be motifs, recurring patterns, outlooks, messages, morals...any number of deliberate elements that make your manuscript more than just a story...indeed, that makes it a novel with something to say.

What are the themes of your current novel, and how are you developing them? Whether you are making your point by creating a backward antagonist, or by giving other characters parallel problems, or by introducing problems that are bigger than your protagonist, or by showing us what your character is aiming for (or at least will settle for).

Be sure that you have a means to bring out what you want to say. A novel that has nothing to say will have a tough time breaking out!

Step:1 With respect to the story as a whole, what does your protagonist want?

Step:2 If your protagonist cannot get that, what would she/he take second?

Step:3 If he/she can get nothing else, what would he settle for?

Step:4 Work out alternative endings for the novel based on each of the above answers. How would each ending go?

Note: the point of this exercise is not necessarily to change the ending of your novel( although it might). It is to use alternate outcomes to understand what it is that your protagonist is really after, and why.

Is second-best or the minimum good enough? Then perhaps you need to raise the personal stakes so that those lesser outcomes are in no way acceptable. Buried in the results of this exercise also are clues to what you novel, really is about: it's theme!

Follow-up: Again thinking of the story as a whole, what outcome would be more than your protagonist possible could hope for?

Conclusion: Ah! The answer to that last question may open up even more possible outcomes for the story. Could it be that your protagonist (or you) has her sights set too low? Even if that dream outcome is not practical, how can that vision of greater good be incorporated into the story?

And now for a joke I got from my friend Sandra!

Two little kids are in a hospital, lying on gurneys next to each other outside the operating room.

The first kid leans over and asks, "What are you in here for?"

The second kid says, "I'm in here to get my tonsils out and I'm a little nervous."

The first kid says, "You've got nothing to worry about. I had that done when I was four. They put you to sleep, and when you wake up they give you lots of Jell-O and ice cream. It's a breeze."

The second kid then asks, "What are you here for?"

The first kid says," A circumcision."

The second kid says, "Whoa, Good luck buddy! I had that done when I was born. Couldn't walk for a year."


  1. jel said...
    the joke is a hoot :)

    have a great day!
    Bernita said...
    Cute - top and bottom.
    Thene(s) I think I'm good for that, but the practical methods of making them emerge are very welcome.
    Anonymous said...
    funny joke
    Sandra Ruttan said...
    My themes never seem to hit me until after I've written about them.

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