Theme: What Are You Trying To Say?

We’re closing in on day one of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve finally come up with an idea. Now what?

I had a very interesting discussion with a coffeeshop mate which led Satin and I into a deeper conversation about love, redemption, and whether someone can comeback from making a purposefully hurtful mistake.

To me, story is all about character, who they start out as, how they transform–or not, who they are at the end, that is the meat and potatoes of storytelling. Over the weekend I spent a few hours sketching out a family tree full of complications, the backstory for my main character inspired by our discussion. I threw in alcoholism, mental illness, liars, cheaters, it’s no wonder my guy is a mess.

This spark of an idea has a lot of potential, and I have several challenges for him and me to navigate. While those are good places to start, I need to think about what I’m trying to say. What message I want my reader to come away with at the end of the story. I need to suss out the theme. But, first let’s see what I have so far.

Looking at genre, I have four possibilities: Morality, Society, Status, or Worldview. To learn more about genre read here at Story Grid. I’ll look at the obligatory scenes and conventions of each genre to see which fits my story best and or vice versa. The genre may change as I write the story and that’s okay. You are using these choices as guidelines, not rules.

In general, my story is about redemption. Imagine a man who has lived a life of self-delusion. One who has deep seated fears, mental anguish from his childhood, whose grown up to be a bit of follower, too afraid to make his own decisions.

He’s easily led down the wrong paths, making excuses for his behavior, never taking responsibility for his mistakes, or his own agency. He ends up in jail, morose, unrepentant, until he’s given something so valuable that it shakes him to his core, forgiveness.

Can a man who spent his whole life avoiding blame, resisting being worthy of love, and respect, find redemption after prison?

I’m relying heavily on Story Grid to help me refine the theme/controlling idea to guide me through this story. I also recommend C.S. Lakin’s Just What is a Theme in a Novel, Anyway?

I’ve never been much of a planner/plotter other than writing short stories as back story to my characters. This time I’m seriously looking at outlining a bit more since this story is something completely new to me. In previous years, all except Avalanche, were based on characters or ideas that had been rattling around my brain for years. They had considerable mental development before I sat down to write them.

This story is completely new and a bit more serious in tone than anything I’ve tackled before. A little plotting seems prudent.

Another guide I was playing around with is this interesting plot cheat sheet on Eva Deverell’s website.

Dig deep, people. Let’s do this thing!

One thought on “Theme: What Are You Trying To Say?

  1. Lynne, thank you for the post. Very inspirational. I am also using StoryGrid after listening to many of their podcast episodes. I also recall you telling me about it awhile back. I have modified the StoryGrid spreadsheet to help me outline my 2nd draft for NaNoWriMo. I hope to show it to you at one of the write-ins. I think it will really help me hit all those points you mention in your post and write a draft more efficiently. Thank you!


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